Media misinformation on U.S. mass shootings leads to tragedy politicization

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


It is appropriate and compassionate for the public to discuss how to best prevent a tragedy like what occurred in Uvalde, Texas from repeating. However, correct actions can only be taken if they are based on true facts. Unfortunately for the U.S., the facts surrounding mass shooting incidents have been conflated and obscured through media misinformation.

Media misinformation began with Lankford’s Study

In 2016, a University of Alabama criminology professor published a research paper entitled “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries.” The paper swiftly made headlines for its alarmist stats: 31% of mass shootings occurred in the U.S. during a 46-year range with 90 different events. The professor, Adam Lankford, explained in his study that the U.S. was one of only five countries found to reach double-digits. The Philippines came in second with 18 shootings in Lankford’s research.

Lankford’s study was bolstered in the headlines in advance of its publication thanks to public comments in 2015 by then-President Barrack Obama. The White House pointed to Lankford’s research to defend Obama’s comments about mass shootings compared to other developed nations. 

The media latched on to Lankford’s findings. The professor’s assertion that the U.S. saw more mass shootings because of the higher rate of gun ownership fit perfectly with the Democrat’s push for gun control, making this study a pet favorite. His study echoes on in the public today, who largely accepts that the U.S. has an out-of-control mass shooting problem not seen in other countries.

Despite this immediate and near-universal acceptance of Lankford’s study, there are plenty of reasons to scrutinize it. For starters, he refused to release his collected data for scrutiny for two years. Considering that the paper touts examining mass shooting incidents from 1966 to 2012 across 171 different countries, understanding where he got his information from is very important to the overall validity of his conclusions.

After all, that time gap begins before the internet made things easily accessible. This means that newspaper archive dives across all areas of the 171 countries would be necessary. Lankford would also need to be fluent in multiple languages to correctly identify qualifying incidents. A failure to do this would automatically skew results towards a higher incident range in the U.S.

Beyond that, the very definition of what constitutes a mass shooting is in dispute. Lankford defined it as an incident that had four victim fatalities, but this leaves out some shootings like the 1998 Thurston High School incident in Springfield, Oregon, which saw two deaths and 25 individuals wounded. Because there is no specific definition of what makes a mass shooting, it also isn’t data that is categorized and tracked by U.S. government offices.

“The Lankford ‘study’ is nothing more than junk science disguised as research and never should have been published in a responsible scholarly journal,” Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck told Fox News.

Lott’s rebuttal underrepresented in media

In 2018, Lankford’s study was harshly criticized and overturned by Crime Prevention Research Center President John Lott Jr.’s own study. Lott found 1,491 mass shootings in the shorter period between 1998 and 2012 that fit Lankford’s four death criteria. Less than 3% of these occurred in the U.S. according to crime researcher.

“By definition, firearms are needed for people to commit mass shootings, so in countries where it is easier for dangerous or disturbed individuals to legally purchase firearms—like the United States—there is an increased likelihood of an attack,” Lankford said while objecting to Lott’s critique.

While Lott’s study gained traction in right-leaning media sources, it went largely unreported by the larger media corporations that many Americans trusted for information. Lankford’s assertion about disproportionate mass shootings remains a largely undisputed “fact” in media coverage and politics today.

This disparity in reporting led one Washington Post writer to say, “Neither Lankford’s nor Lott’s studies likely tell the full story of mass shootings, but that’s the entire point — if they’re willing to use one study as God’s honest truth on MSNBC and CNN, why won’t they consider the other?”

Lankford’s initial data was also criticized for including terrorist events. He later revised some numbers to remove these. Ultimately, he showed 43 incidents in the U.S. compared to a total of 21 incidents between France, the Philippines, Russia, and Yemen. However, these numbers fail to leave out the countries that rank highest.

U.S. ranks under other countries for mass shooting fatalities and frequency

In an analysis of data from 2009 to 2015, Lott found that the U.S. ranked 11th in death rates resulting from mass shootings. The U.S. ranks 12th in mass shooting frequencies. Norway, Switzerland, and France all rate higher in both categories. This challenges the liberal talking point that these tragedies only occur in the U.S.

In Norway, 1.888 individuals per one million people died in a mass public shooting between 2009 and 2015. In France, which ranked third in this category, that number drops to 0.381 per million. Switzerland showed a 0.142 death rate in seventh place. Meanwhile, the U.S. was found to have a 0.089 per one million rating.

In the frequency category, Macedonia took first place with 0.471 per million people. This dropped to 0.249 for Switzerland in fourth place, 0.197 for Norway’s fifth-place ranking, and 0.078 for the U.S. 

“Yes, the U.S. rate is still high, and nothing to be proud of. But it’s not the highest in the developed world. Not by a long shot,” an Investor’s Daily Report noted at the time these stats were published.


The refusal to backtrack and critique Lankford’s study has created a unique opportunity for politicians to exploit tragedies like the recent Uvalde school shooting. Aristotle broke persuasion down into three parts: logical, emotional, and an appeal to authority. While the deaths of nineteen young children provide the emotional motivation to make a change, liberal politicians rely on an alarmist study with questionable research methods to provide authority. 

When left unchallenged, this then allows Democrats and anti-gun activists to exploit tragedies by relying on emotional manipulation and deception. The fact is that the U.S. is not leading in mass shooting violence overall. This means liberals are attempting to solve the wrong problem by emphasizing harsh gun control laws.