Fact checks by the media ought to be factual. The New York Times failed to do this with an error-filled piece that incorrectly claims President Trump “peppered his remarks with inaccurate facts about mass shootings and gun policy” Wednesday in a meeting with members of Congress.
I have a bit of a personal stake in this, as President Trump was using arguments that I have been making for many years in my earlier academic research at universities on gun control laws and public safety and in my role as founder and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.
By any objective standard, truth in labeling would show that the Times article by Linda Qui is not a fact check at all, but simply a political attack on President Trump, with no attempt to understand the arguments he is making.
At his televised meeting with lawmakers, the president stated: “You take Pulse nightclub, if you had one person in that room that could carry a gun and knew how to use it, it wouldn’t have happened, or certainly to the extent that it did.”
Qui rates this statement by the president as “false.” “There was, in fact, an off-duty police officer working in the nightclub at the time of the shooting,” she writes.
But in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando – when a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 58 others – the police officer on guard was the first person who was shot at. An officer’s uniform is like a neon sign saying “shoot me first.”
The same targeting of uniformed officers happened at the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, when two brothers shot and killed 12 people and injured 11 others. And it happened again last year when a gunman shot and killed 39 people and wounded at least 70 others in Istanbul in Turkey.
Attackers are not stupid. They want to eliminate anyone who poses an immediate threat at the outset of their attack. If a police officer or security guard in uniform is the only person with a gun, shooting him will give shooters free reign to kill others. Florida is one of only 10 states that ban civilians from carrying guns at nightclubs.
What President Trump had in mind was concealed carrying of a handgun. If one or more people who aren’t obvious guards are armed, attackers won’t be able to identify them, and so won’t know who they need to attack first. This is a critical distinction that Qui ignores.
Concealed handgun permit holders make a guard's job much safer, because an attacker won't be able to attack the guard without worrying that someone behind him or to his side might be able to stop him with a bullet. It is the concealed handgun permit holder who can’t be identified as having a weapon who takes away the attacker’s strategic advantage.
President Trump also stated in his meeting Wednesday: “98 percent of all mass shootings in the United States since 1950 have taken place in gun-free zones.”
Qui claims that this is “disputed” because gun-free zone prohibitions don’t “account for weapons being carried by law enforcement officers, military troops or licensed professional security personnel.”
Criticizing my research, Qui writes that “Lott’s data set included military bases like Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard.” But my point is valid. Whether the person guarding the place is a uniformed police officer or a security guard, they are the first target for these attackers.
Regular military members are banned from carrying guns at military bases in the United States, making the bases surprisingly soft targets. The only people who can carry guns on domestic bases are military police, so the situation is much the same as at the Pulse nightclub.
Fort Hood in Texas – where a U.S. Army major shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in 2009 – is like a medium-sized city, with military police driving around just as police do in any city.
Terrorists can kill the police first, wait for them to leave, or pick another target. Concealed handgun permit holders take away the strategic advantage that terrorists have in being able to choose the time and place of their attacks.
Qui points to a study by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety that finds “70 percent of mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015 took place in private residences.” Qui cites another study that also counts gang shootings.
But President Trump properly follows the official FBI definition of mass public shootings, which excludes “shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence” or that occurred in the commission of another crime such as robbery.
The FBI also includes only shootings in “public places” such as: commercial areas (malls, stores and other businesses); schools and colleges; open spaces; government properties (including military bases and civilian offices); houses of worship; and health- care facilities.
Qui and the two studies she cites completely ignore the reasons behind the FBI's definition of “mass public shootings.” Shootings in private residences are distinctly different, since they often involve killers who know the homeowners and whether they own guns. If there is a gun in the home, the killer may know who has access to it. And in some cases, one spouse or romantic partner shoots the other.
Mass public shootings are uniquely motivated. Whereas gang fights are typically part of larger turf wars over control of the sale of drugs, the perpetrators of mass public shootings seek to gain publicity by killing or injuring as many people as possible. The remedies for these two types of violence are also vastly different.
The issue of gun-free zones is particularly pertinent to mass public shootings. The number of casualties in an attack depends on the amount of time that elapses before someone with a gun intervenes.
The above responses to Qui’s arguments have been made dozens of times. But Qui apparently didn’t feel it necessary to address them in her piece. Perhaps she didn't think it was necessary because readers of the New York Times would never hear the arguments on the other side.
If we're going to effectively address the problem of mass public shootings, we're going to have to set political biases aside.