Dozens of news outlets reported that America has the most mass shooters in the world. Many say that shows America needs more gun control.
CNN claimed that “the U.S. has the most mass shootings”. The WSJ reported that “U.S. leads the world in mass shootings.” Nearly every major media outlet and former President Obama said the same.
But the claim is based on just one study, and the author of that study, Adam Lankford, would not release his data to other gun reseachers in the field.
Economist John Lott argues that Lankford’s study has many flaws.
Lott is the author of the books “More Guns, Less Crime” and “Bias against Guns.” His son, Maxim Lott, works for Stossel TV.
Stossel says because of that, he repeatedly asked Lankford to show him the study data that he would not reveal to Lott. But Lankford would not disclose it to Stossel either.
Lankford claimed to find “complete data” for all mass shootings in 171 countries from 1966 to 2012. But Lott notes that Lankford doesn’t reveal basic details about how he found shootings in so many countries — most of which don’t speak English. And most of those years, those countries didn’t have the internet.
Lott argues that finding complete data for mass shooters in just one developing country, such as India, would be an incredible feat, as many shootings would be reported only in local outlets in the local language.
U.S. mass shootings, on the other hand, are well-documented and hard to miss.
Lott says that if Lankford missed foreign cases but found all the U.S. ones, his paper’s entire conclusion that the US has the most mass shooters could fall apart.
Lankford has declined to answer questions about how he searched for foreign-language cases.
Did Lankford miss foreign cases? Because Lankford would not release his data, Lott and the think tank he runs — the Crime Prevention Research Center — compiled their own count of mass shooters. (His paper is at http://ssrn.com/abstract=3238736 )
Lott counted more than 3,000 cases around the world — several times more than the 202 cases Lankford found. Lott found 15 times more, despite the fact that he only looked for shootings in the last 15 years, whereas Lankford looked at 46 years.
Lott attempted to use the same definition of “mass shooter” that Lankford used, although that’s difficult. In Lankford’s paper, Lankford says he excludes “sponsored terrorism” but does not define what he means by that.
To be safe, Lott removed all terrorism cases from his data. When he did that that, he still found 709 shooters around the world — more than 3 times what Lankford found.
Gun control advocates have used the Lankford study to argue that mass shootings are caused by the comparatively high gun ownership rate in the U.S.
But when Lankford’s data are fixed, Lott says, there is no longer any correlation between gun ownership rate and mass shootings.
Lott concludes: “There is a lesson here. Lankford’s critical but simple error could have been picked up if journalists had only demanded his data and methods before publicizing his study.”
That’s something journalists rarely do.
Lott adds: “Journalists should learn to be skeptical… and in the meantime, we should all be skeptical of news coverage of studies like this — that simply confirm what journalists and people want to hear.”