Rebutting NRO: Intellectual Dishonesty Taken To A New Level

A friend sent this NRO article as an “interesting explanation of what happened at Sandy Hook.”

It’s a great example of lies, damn lies and statistics. It also contains a textbook example of dishonesty via anecdote. Combined, the article becomes a testament to intellectual dishonesty.

First, lying with statistics.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The author doesn’t define mass murder. The FBI does. According to the FBI, mass murder is four or more murders with no cooling off period.

He also doesn’t define what he means — 42 for the entire decade?

I looked at mass shootings from 2005-2012 and 1997-2004; the cut-off marks the expiration of the assault weapon ban.

  • 1997-2004: 14 instances in this seven-year period; 189 killed and injured
  • 2005-2012: 26 instances in this seven-year period; 421 killed and injured

There have been seven mass murders in 2012. There were eight for the three-year period 2009-2011. The decade of the ’90s? A total of 23 (that’s 2.3/year). And the first decade of this century? 19.

Lying by anecdote

Here, we’ll see the line that the NRA would take later in the week, and one explored by another NRO writer who also wrung her hands over the fact that there were no men around to, you know, protect the helpless females.

“Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting. Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter. (emphasis added)

Let’s look at these two examples. If there are “many instances” can we safely assume that these would be the “best” ones?

October 1, 1997, Luke Woodham, Pearl, MS

Not a mass murder. Woodham, 16, killed two students and injured seven in an 11-minute rampage at his high school, using a 30-30 hunting rifle. “He was walking along, thumbing fresh rounds into the side port of the rifle.”

The school’s assistant principal, Joel Myrick, a US Army Reserve commander, retrieved his .45 pistol from his truck. “Woodham got into his car and tried to drive away, but he lost control and came to a stop as Myrick raced up to him. Myrick detained Woodham until the police arrived.

Imagine how many people might have died had he owned a Bushmaster XM-15?

He was convicted of these two murders as well as the murder of his mother.

December 9, 2007, Matthew Murray, Colorado Springs, CO

Not a mass murder. Murray, 24, killed two at the New Life Church in Colorado. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. However, Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard at the church and former police officer, “identified herself to him and then fired.”

Why did the church have an armed volunteer security guard?

Security had been tightened at New Life Church after it was warned about the shootings at the Youth With A Mission training centre in the Denver suburb of Arvada, in which Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, were killed and two men wounded.

Either 12 or 13 hours earlier (conflicting news reports), Murray had killed those two people. His weapons stash: a Bushmaster XM-15; an AK-47 assault rifle; a Beretta .40 cal. semi-automatic handgun; a Beretta .22 cal. handgun; and a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

Then there’s this:

The attacks came just four days after a 19-year-old man killed eight people and himself at a busy shopping centre in Omaha, Nebraska.

So, in the first instance, the use of the gun was secondary. The killings had stopped; the killer had been identified. In the second instance, the former police officer was acting as a guard because the church was on high alert. Typical? Not even close.

And then there are these facts:

In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. We have known for many years that a sheriff’s deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.

Lott and Landes Study

NRO continues:

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

If I may: mass murders occur in shopping malls, theaters, restaurants and schools because that’s where people congregate. Not unlike robbing banks because that’s where the money is.

Lott and Landes published a working paper in 1999. Lott had published More Guns, Less Crime in 1998.

This might be why the paper remained in work: in 2004, the National Academy of Sciences published Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review:

[D]espite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements. (page 2, emphasis added)

This week, Lott told Soledad O’Brian that Germany had “two of the three worst public school shootings.” He then upped this to “three of the five worst public school shootings.”

Here they are:

  1. Sept 2004, Beslan, North OssetiaTooltip Text : 334, including 156 children, dead
  2. April 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia USA : 31 dead plus the shooter (university)
  3. May 1974, Ma’alot, Israel : 25 dead plus the shooter
  4. December 2012, Sandy Hook, Connecticut USA : 24 dead plus the shooter
  5. April 2002, Erfurt, Germany : 16 dead plus the shooter
  6. March 1996, Dunblane, Scotland : 17 dead plus the shooter
  7. August 1996 1966, Austin, Texas USA : 17 dead plus the shooter, killed by police (university)
  8. April 1999, Littleton, Colorado USA : 13 dead plus the shooters
  9. December 1989, Montreal, Canada : 14 dead plus the shooter (university)
  10. June 1964, Cologne, Germany : 10 dead plus the shooter

Before Sandy Hook, Germany was #4 and #9. Don’t you think that if you were in your third decade of studying this issue that you’d get it right on national TV?

To recap …

First, John Fund, a national-affairs columnist for NRO, does not use the FBI definition for mass murder in his analysis but he doesn’t tell us what criteria he has substituted.

Second, Fund provides two anecdotes of how “guns on site” are the answer. But neither are FBI-classified mass murders. Moreover, in each case the person on the scene was a professional. Finally, in one case, the person who helped stem the violence was on site because the venue was under high alert.

Third, Fund trots out an almost 14-year old working paper that has been discredited by the National Academy of Sciences. And its author put his own foot in his mouth this week in a TV interview.

This is the best argument that the gun lobby can muster to convince us that the status quo is working?