How not to count school shootings

This isn’t a political post, I promise. In this post I am not making any policy suggestions or anything of the sort, nor saying one side or the other is right in the great big gun control debate. This post is about honesty.

If you’re on Facebook you’ve probably already seen memes saying we’ve had 18 school shootings so far this year. What you may not have seen were several articles—including in the Washington Post—pointing out how that statistic is completely bogus. Hopefully you knew that already, since we have in fact had only one of those tragedies so far this year, and that’s blindingly obvious just by the news coverage.

The fake stat actually comes from an advocacy group called Everytown for Gun Safety, co-founded by billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and they reach that ridiculous number of 18 by counting basically any incident involving a firearm discharge at a school as a school shooting. This includes accidental discharge and isolated acts of violence. It also includes suicides, like one outside of a school that had been closed for seven months (the group rescinded that one after the WaPo article came out), and cases where shots were fired when there was nobody around to get hurt.

Right off the bat you, the person whose intelligence and good taste led you to my blog, can see why this is dishonest: When Jane Public hears the phrase “school shooting”, she pictures a horrific event like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, where someone deliberately orchestrated as much death as possible and in fact never had a specific target, just a desire to get attention like the whores they are by murdering many innocents. That’s what everyone pictures when they, WE, hear that term. Everytown for Gun Safety knows this, which is why they’re a bunch of craven liars. You can’t twist the truth that far and call it anything else but a lie.

I saw a similar stat tonight on a video suggesting there have been 200 school shootings since 2013. Dollars to donuts it came from the same bonehead group, because no there have frelling not been 200 school shootings in the last five years. Common sense says that’s ridiculous. How many have there been? I don’t know the real number, but if it’s far from a dozen I’d be gobsmacked.

It bothers me that idiotic stats that so obviously don’t pass the sniff test can go viral like that, because nobody bothers to be the least bit skeptical about them. But that’s not the real reason for this rant.

One of my cousins likes to post a lot of memes, and doesn’t really do political posts at all. He did post one of the articles debunking the 18 figure. And then one of his friends went on a tirade about how not counting all those other incidents used to inflate the stat is somehow wrong, and that people trying to set the record straight are evil and also stupid. I’m calling out that friend of his, but not by name. For the purposes of this rant I’m going to call her Ditzy McTrampstamp.

Ditzy, the aftermath of a mass shooting, especially in a school, is always a politically volatile time. Emotions are up, people are outraged, and we want justice. There’s no justice to be had, because often the shooter kills himself, and even when we catch them and find them guilty in a court of law the 8th Amendment is still a thing. (I’m not saying ditch the 8th, but that there’s really nothing approaching real justice for the likes of a school shooter.) The point is people are angry, people want change, and lots of people vehemently disagree on how to change things. This is not the time, Ditzy McTrampstamp, to inject deliberately misleading statistics.

In fact there is no justifiable time to inject deliberately misleading statistics, Ditzy! If a figure has been discredited, and you use it even knowing that, you’re a liar. Everytown for Gun Safety is knowingly counting incidents that by no means fit the colloquial definition of “school shooting”, but pretending they can make the term mean whatever they want it to mean. I have no comment here on their politics, only the dishonest means by which they pursue their goals. It’s disgusting, it’s wrong, and anyone who supports that kind of flagrant dishonesty—on any side!—is an asshole. I’m not even talking about massaging stats or cherry picking or anything like that, the everyday sort of stat-bending that everyone does. This is literally redefining a term with no justification whatsoever, knowing that the people who hear it actually know and accept a very different definition.

But that being said, Ditzy McTrampstamp, that doesn’t mean cases of accidental firearm discharge in schools are okay. That doesn’t mean individual acts of violence are okay. It doesn’t mean calling attention to those cases is a bad thing. But calling them school shootings when they’re not, especially for shock value, is flagrantly wrong.

In other words, Ditzy, you can share or disavow the politics and concerns of any group you like, and no one can fault you for having an opinion. You can be outraged about every single incident that got lumped into or left out of a bogus stat, and you have every right to that. But you cannot defend a statistic you know is deliberately misleading just because those wrongly included/excluded cases still matter in a different, or broader, context. Call those things what they are and deal with them on honest terms, or shut up.

Everytown for Gun Safety defends their inane deception by claiming that any such incident at a school erodes the public sense of safety in our schools. There’s nothing wrong with taking that position if they label their stats correctly. If they called their tally a “gun discharge incident at a school” tally instead of a “school shooting” tally, that would be honest. (Although they’d still have to exclude the case of a guy killing himself outside a school that had been closed for months, because come on.) If they want to say all cases of a gun being fired in or around a school are bad, even if those incidents happen to be legal ones like a justified shooting (e.g., self defense, police action), that’s an opinion and they have the right to hold it and to persuade others to their side.

But whatever persuasion they choose ought to be the truth, or at least something reasonably close to it if you squint. By choosing a term they know the public will interpret differently because everybody does, and using that to inflate the actual number by a couple orders of magnitude, they’re being intentionally and egregiously deceitful. That should not go unremarked. Just because an incident happened at a school and a gun went off does not make it a “school shooting”, because they know as well as you do that the term really means something much more specific.

It would be every bit as honest to say there are millions of “public hangings” in the US every December by counting wreaths hung on on municipal street lamps. As I write, literally billions of human beings are “dying”—which is to say, every single member of the human race is on an inexorable march towards death, even if that death is many decades away. But we all know that “public hanging” and “dying” mean something else. Does dinging a door in a parking lot count towards car accident statistics? It should be counted for some kind of stat, just for insurance purposes, but I think we can all agree the term “car accident” means at least one car is in motion and hits something it isn’t supposed to, and it isn’t even necessarily always an accident.

So no, Ditzy McTrampstamp, you don’t get to get all in a huff to defend this honor of this thoroughly indefensible and dishonorable stat, after you’ve seen for yourself that it’s a lie. “It’s a lie but it’s still important to call attention to these other cases so we should repeat it anyway” is not a tenable position, and either you know that or you’re too stupid to justify using oxygen. Regardless of where you fall politically, regardless of where the people who put it out into the world fall politically, you have no excuse whatsoever for supporting a stat you know is breathtakingly untrue. Support or oppose whatever position you want, but whatever you do, stand for the truth. Asshat.

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About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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