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Media-touted FBI "Mass Shooting" Report Debunked

Friday, June 12, 2015

Media-touted FBI "Mass Shooting" Report Debunked

A misleading 2014 FBI report that fueled media claims that mass shooting incidents in the U.S. are rising sharply has been thoroughly debunked. In a piece appearing in the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences' March 2015 ACJS Today newsletter, Economist John R. Lott carefully lays out the flaws in the Bureaus' "A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013" report.

First, Lott takes the media to task for misrepresenting the underlying scope of the report, and for FBI's failure to adequately explain the content to its readers. Rather than track mass shootings or murders, the report in fact attempts to track "active shooter incidents." This is significant because it encompasses events where no one was shot or killed.

Despite this, media outlets ran sensational headlines, like the New York Times', "F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000." Lott contends that FBI exacerbated this misperception, noting, "The report discusses mass public shootings, but it never makes it clear to the readers that these types of fatalities and attacks are actually not increasing over time."

The media's distortion of findings to fit their own anti-gun agenda is, unfortunately, to be expected. When done under the auspices of the FBI, such behavior is unacceptable. Whether this report is simply shoddy work, or veiled advocacy, is not altogether clear; however, Lott concludes, "The FBI report appears to be politically driven."

Next, Lott criticizes the authors for selecting their data to show a notable increase in "active shooter incidents." Lott shows that the inclusion of non-mass shooting incidents where zero or one person was killed have the effect of skewing the data to show a surge. Further, Lott explains that the researchers failed to include at least 20 shooting incidents, and that the omitted events were disproportionately from the earlier years of the period studied.

Lott also takes issue with the limited time period studied by the researchers. When data on mass shootings from 1977 through 2014 are used, and the incidents studied are limited to those where at least two or more people were murdered, the supposed annual increase in shootings is "no longer statistically significant."

A pair of researchers who worked on the FBI report issued a defense of their work in the May edition of ACJS Today. The researchers attempted to shift blame for the misunderstanding to the media, noting, "We wonder if some members of the media intentionally misreported findings in an attempt to generate a bigger headline or advance their own agendas." As to why their report was missing so many relevant incidents, they admit, "We acknowledge in the FBI report that our data are imperfect."

The media's distortion of findings to fit their own anti-gun agenda is, unfortunately, to be expected. When done under the auspices of the FBI, such behavior is unacceptable. Whether this report is simply shoddy work, or veiled advocacy, is not altogether clear; however, Lott concludes, "The FBI report appears to be politically driven."

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