Discredited gun researcher John Lott made numerous false claims about guns -- covering "gun-free zones," gun suicides, and whether loose gun laws deter crime -- during an appearance on CNN focused on the mass shooting at an Oregon community college.
During the October 2 broadcast of CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, host Carol Costello said, "I don't really want to have a debate this morning, I actually want to have a conversation, so I've invited John Lott." Lott, whose infamous research linking permissive gun laws to lower crime rates has been thoroughly discredited, then proceeded to use the segment as an opportunity to push numerous falsehoods about the October 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College (UCC) where a gunman killed nine people and wounded seven others.
Of the Oregon shooting, Lott claimed, "The one thing in common" with this and other recent mass shootings "is to notice that yesterday, just like in all these other cases, they occur where guns are banned, where citizens are aren't able to go and defend themselves."
Lott's claim that guns were "banned" at UCC is not accurate. While the school's policy prohibits guns inside of its buildings, Oregon law allows people with concealed carry permits to carry firearms on the grounds of public colleges and universities. In fact, a student who also happened to be a U.S. military veteran was carrying a gun on campus at the time of the shooting and described on MSNBC why he and other veterans he was with decided not to intervene, explaining, "Not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn't have known who we were, if we had our guns ready to shoot they could think we were bad guys."
Lott's broader claim that mass shootings typically happen where guns are not allowed is also false. Of 134 mass shootings documented by Everytown for Gun Safety between January 2009 and July 2015, only 13 percent occurred where guns could not be carried:
Claims about "gun-free zones" are predictable talking points for Lott and other gun advocates following mass shootings, but the alleged connection is a red herring because there is no evidence that people with concealed guns stop mass shootings.
At another point in the CNN interview, Lott said, "I don't know how many explicit statements these killers have to make about how they chose targets where they knew people weren't able to go and defending themselves," citing the comments of other mass shooters and the diary of the gunman responsible for the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.
The claim that mass shooters pick their targets based on whether guns are allowed is false. Mother Jones' Mark Follman dismantled that theory in an article debunking Lott's claims about the Aurora gunman's diary: "As I reported in an investigation into nearly 70 mass shootings in the United States over three decades, there has never been any known evidence of gun laws influencing a mass shooter's strategic thinking."
Instead, Follman found "the vast majority of the perpetrators have indicated other specific motivations for striking their targets, such as employment grievances or their connection to a school."
Lott used his appearance to push several other gun-related falsehoods. On suicides-by-gun, which claim nearly 20,000 American lives per year, Lott said, "To go and think that some type of gun control regulations that are being talked about are going to stop somebody from committing suicide, when there are so many other ways for people to commit suicide."
Again, this is not true. Gun suicides are typically successful, resulting in death 85 percent of the time, while other methods of attempting suicide result in death just 9 percent of the time. According to a review of 90 studies on the long-term outcomes of individuals who survived a suicide attempt, 89 to 95 percent did not become future victims of suicide.
Another false claim Lott pushed on CNN was about gun bans and murder rates. Lott said, "Here's a simple fact, every place in the world that's banned guns, not just Washington D.C. and Chicago when we had our bans, but every place that has banned guns has seen murder rates go up." Like Lott's claim about mass shootings and so-called "gun-free zones," this claim is a red herring, namely because gun bans like the one that existed in Washington D.C. and Chicago are unconstitutional in the United States and are irrelevant to serious policy discussions on gun laws.
Lott's citation of Washington D.C. is highly misleading, as well. The District of Columbia banned ownership of handguns from 1976 until 2008. While the murder rate in D.C. was slightly lower in 1976 compared to 2008, that doesn't tell the whole story. Significantly, in each of the five years preceding D.C.'s handgun ban, the murder rate was higher compared to where the murder rate stood in 2008 after more than 30 years of banning handgun ownership.
Offering another sweeping falsehood, Lott also claimed, "Most of the academic work out there finds that increases in concealed handgun permits, increases in gun ownership, generally is associated with reduced crime."
Lott's claim that more guns equal less crime is actually the minority view, and his thesis has been debunked time and time again. Reputable research from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center that looked at numerous studies concluded that where there are more guns, there is a higher risk of homicide.
According to a survey of the authors of "1,200 articles on firearms published since 2011 in peer-reviewed journals focused on public health, public policy, sociology, and criminology" 62 percent of experts disagreed that permissive concealed carry laws reduce crime, compared to just 9 percent who agreed:
In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, conservative commentators instantly referred to the school as a "gun-free zone," falling back on conservative media's go-to mass shooting talking point.
At least 10 people were reported killed, and many others injured October 1 during an Oregon community college mass shooting, and as facts concerning the shooting remained scarce, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a "gun-free zone" on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the Drudge Report, and other conservative websites.
But these references of "gun-free zones" represent a red herring because they rely on the assumption that more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings, when in reality there is no evidence to support such claims.
The overwhelming majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns are allowed to be carried. And according to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period conducted by Mother Jones, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather other motives typically exist for choice of location, such as a workplace grievance.
As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes explained in a commentary for The Trace, the idea that "gun-free zones" attract mass shooters is based on the faulty assumption that the shooters are "rational actors":
Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the argument against gun-free zones, in the context of mass shootings, is its underlying assumption that shooters are rational actors. Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a "formal diagnosis of mental illness," yet his model requires them to act precisely as we know they don't: as hyperrational, calculating machines, intentionally seeking out gun-free environments for the sole purpose of maximizing causalities.
In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area, regardless of the amount of fatalities) between 2000 and 2013 -- including the high-profile mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora -- shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63 percent of the cases.
Several conservative media outlets cited a recent study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine to conclude that gun laws do not effectively deter criminals from obtaining firearms, even though the study actually found that gun laws in Chicago make it harder for criminals to acquire firearms by increasing opportunity costs. The study's authors are now speaking out against media misrepresentations of their work.
Prominent gun advocate John Lott blamed a robbery victim who was shot in the back for his injuries, claiming the man displayed "passive behavior" because he fled his attacker.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christopher Sanna was shot after being robbed while walking to his car following a St. Louis Cardinals game, and is likely to be paralyzed. Army veteran Sanna was wounded when he and his girlfriend fled two robbers after complying with their demands:
Christopher Sanna had parked at the Old Cathedral parking lot and was waking to his car. According to police, two men in a dark-colored sedan drove up to them. The driver got out with a gun and demanded their property. The woman gave the gunman her purse, and the couple turned to run away. The gunman fired several shots in their direction, hitting Sanna in the back.
"They turned to run away, but they didn't make it very far," Candis Sanna said. "As soon as they gave them the stuff, they were going to try to run away but he shot them. They were within arm's reach.
Sanna's mother told the Post-Dispatch that her son is always "very aware of his surroundings," but that the robbery "happened so fast."
Lott is a well-known pro-gun advocate and frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence. He rose to prominence during the 1990s with the publication of his book, More Guns, Less Crime, although his conclusion that permissive gun laws reduce crime rates was later debunked by academics who found serious flaws in his research. (Reputable research indicates that permissive concealed carry laws do not reduce crime and may actually increase the occurrence of aggravated assault.)
Lott's claim follows a growing trend among gun rights activists to blame victims of violent crimes for not properly defending themselves. Most notably, several commentators blamed the victims of the June massacre at an historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina for their own deaths.
Besides the offensive nature of Lott's claim -- that crime victims are responsible for getting hurt -- research on what typically happens during a violent crime debunks Lott's thesis that behaving "passive[ly]" makes a crime victim more vulnerable to harm.
A contributor to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) Frontlines series suggested that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on America could kill 90 percent of the population and cause people on food assistance to start "eating each other in the streets."
The NRA routinely fearmongers that an EMP attack -- where a nuclear bomb is detonated in space, supposedly causing the destruction of the power grid -- would cause widespread chaos and death, even though experts have dismissed such claims as coming from a "crowd of cranks and threat inflators."
During the September 22 broadcast of the NRA's radio show Cam & Company, Frontlines contributor Chuck Holton promoted an episode of his series featuring former CIA director James Woolsey. Called "The Fight for Light: The Coming Catastrophe," the episode largely speculated about the prospect of North Korea using a satellite to detonate a nuclear bomb in space to destroy the United States' power grid.
Frontlines is hosted by NRA board member and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and takes viewers "inside the most dangerous threats and critical events concerning your freedom."
While promoting the North Korea EMP episode, Holton said on Cam & Company, "Like Admiral Woolsey said in that piece -- you know, this is the former director of the CIA, it's not just some old guy that we found on the street, OK? He knows what he is talking about. And they're estimating that 90 percent of Americans would die in the case of a large-scale grid down situation."
"You're talking about mass starvation, disease breaking out," Holton continued. "It's not just like people are going to die because their iPhone doesn't work anymore, you're talking about large scale -- people eating each other in the streets, because when you have these sort of systemic issues in our government of nearly half of the people in the United States receiving some sort of subsidy from the government, imagine what happens when all the EBT cards start flashing zeroes."
The NRA's claims about the chance of an EMP attack are greatly overblown. For one thing, North Korean satellites are not sophisticated enough to be used as reliable delivery systems for nuclear bombs (and look nothing like the highly-sophisticated satellite depicted as exploding over the United States in the Frontlines' episode.)
As Wired noted after "hysterical headlines" in 2012 about how North Korea had "finally managed to put an object into orbit around the Earth after 14 years of trying," North Korea's satellite is 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet tall and weighs just 220 pounds. While the satellite was supposed to transmit "scientific data when orbiting over the DPRK and the hymns of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il the rest of the time," it is apparently non-functional.
Woolsey, whom the NRA's considers its expert on EMP attacks, has also been criticized for his EMP claims and promotion of the conspiracy theory that Iraqis were responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis criticized Woolsey for a Wall Street Journal op-ed suggesting the United States should launch pre-emptive strike on North Korea to prevent an EMP attack on the United States.
Even if an EMP attack somehow occurred, Lewis demonstrated how past experimentation suggests that the "EMP crowd" has baselessly speculated about what would actually happen during an attack:
Even if we understand how an electromagnetic pulse works and have data about the vulnerability of equipment, a modern system like a power grid or communications network presents just too complex a set of resiliencies and vulnerabilities.
The solution of the EMP Commission was simply to collect more data, essentially creating laundry lists of things that might go wrong. For example, the EMP Commission exposed 37 cars and 18 trucks to EMP effects in a laboratory environment. While EMP advocates claim the results of an EMP attack would be "planes falling from the sky, cars stalling on the roadways, electrical networks failing, food rotting," the actual results were much more modest. Of the 55 vehicles exposed to EMP, six at the highest levels of exposure needed to be restarted. A few more showed "nuisance" damage to electronics, such as blinking dashboard displays.
The NRA routinely fills its magazines with advertisements for bulk survival food and alternative power sources in case the grid goes offline.
Just before the 2014 elections, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre urged supporters to "vote your guns" while fear mongering over the prospect of a Russia, China or North Korea-led EMP attack that could kill "as much as 90 percent of the population of the U.S." by bringing about the reemergence of "Third World" diseases like "amoebic dysentery, typhoid, [and] cholera -- killing our youngest and frailest family members."
Following press coverage of Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) comment during the second GOP presidential debate that he was "honored" to have won the endorsement of Gun Owners of America (GOA), the group lashed out at media coverage documenting its long history of extremism. In an open letter posted on its website, GOA claimed it has "NEVER aligned ourselves with racist groups" -- despite the fact that the group's leader, Larry Pratt, once acknowledged that he directed GOA to donate "tens of thousands of dollars" to a white supremacist organization and shared the stage with white supremacists at rallies organized by the racist Christian Identity movement in the 1990s.
Media should no longer allow Jeb Bush to promote his record on guns by claiming, "In Florida we have a background check." This claim is a lie by omission that neglects the totality of so-called private gun transfers that happen in the state.
During CNN's September 16 Republican presidential debate, Bush gave a misleading answer about Florida's gun laws to advance his campaign talking point that the federal government "shouldn't be involved in gun laws." Bush suggested that gun laws should be determined "state-by-state" and criticized Hillary Clinton and President Obama for advocating for federal gun laws, before adding, "That's not the right approach to do it. In Florida we have a background check":
That is not accurate. The circumstances under which a gun buyer must undergo a background check in Florida are instead defined by the federal Brady Law, which requires that gun buyers undergo a background check only when they're buying from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
In Florida, background checks are not required for so-called private gun sales (although individual counties may impose universal background check requirements). By some estimates, up to 40 percent of the millions of gun transfers that occur nationwide each year are conducted without any background check because of this private transfer loophole.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted background check laws that go beyond the federal requirement for purchases from licensed dealers, but Florida is not one of those states.
Florida allows the sale of guns without a background check in many cases, and has higher rates of domestic violence-related gun murders, and gun murders of law enforcement officers compared to states that require universal background checks on handgun sales. Furthermore, gun murders have increased in Florida since 2005 when Bush signed the nation's first "Stand Your Ground" law, which was drafted by the National Rifle Association and became infamous as the centerpiece of George Zimmerman's criminal defense after he shot and killed unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
Between 2008 and 2012, Florida had one of the highest rates of gun violence against women in the nation. According to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, women in Florida were more than twice as likely to be killed by an intimate partner using a gun than women in states that require background checks on handgun sales. Florida's rate of gun violence against women -- 5.74 homicides per million -- was far above the national average, and exceeded average gun violence even for many states with similarly lax gun laws. According to another data set compiled by Everytown, between 2000 and 2011, for every 100,000 active police officers in Florida, 65.4 were killed with guns, compared to an average rate of just 35.4 in states that require background checks on handgun sales.
Bush's claim about background checks appears to be a go-to talking point for the Republican presidential hopeful. When asked about background checks on gun sales during a September 8 interview with Stephen Colbert, Bush falsely claimed, "In Florida, where I was governor, we have a requirement of background checks."
Bush's claim about background checks stands in stark contrast to his actual record on guns while governor of Florida between 1999 and 2007. According to an analysis of federal data by the Center for American Progress, gun murder rates have increased in Florida since Bush signed "Stand Your Ground":
During CNN's September 16 GOP presidential candidate debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he was "honored to be endorsed by Gun Owners of America as the strongest supporter of the Second Amendment on the stage today." GOA has donated money to a white supremacist group, opposes any background checks on gun sales, and advocates for guns in kindergarten classrooms. Its leader, Larry Pratt, has suggested mass shootings are staged by the government and has past ties to white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations.
CNN's decision to partner with the Reagan Presidential Library to host the second GOP presidential debate means it's all but certain that media covering the event will draw comparisons between the 2016 Republican field and America's 40th president. When it comes to gun policies, at least, the difference is stark: While Reagan supported background checks, waiting periods on gun sales, and bans on assault weapons, the current GOP presidential hopefuls all hold what can only be called extreme positions on gun regulation.
Fox Business Network invited Jan Morgan, the owner of a gun range in Arkansas that bans Muslim customers, to fearmonger that the Obama administration's plan to accept 10,000 refugees from civil war-torn Syria "is an open door to an enemy invasion." Calling for Islam to be "reclassified as a terrorist organization," Morgan suggested that when refugees are admitted into the U.S., Americans may have to use their "right to bear arms to defend life."
Morgan made national headlines in September 2014 when she banned Muslims from using a gun range she owns in Hot Springs, Arkansas, writing on her website (sic throughout), "why would I hand a loaded gun to a muslim and allow him to shoot lethal weapons next to people his koran commands him to kill?" According to FoxNews.com, Morgan "excludes those she believes to be Muslim based on their names," and has likened the prospect of Muslims using her facilities to allowing a Nazi or a Klu Klux Klan member to use her range. The Department of Justice is reportedly monitoring Morgan's business after receiving complaints of discrimination.
The September 14 broadcast of Fox Business' Intelligence Report with Trish Regan nonetheless invited Morgan on to stoke fears about President Obama's decision to increase the number of refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war who can resettle in the United States. Morgan made a number of conspiratorial and bigoted claims about Muslims to criticize the plan, asserting, "This is not a humanitarian hand that President Obama is extending, it is an open door to an enemy invasion."
She went on to claim that -- "according to extensive research presented on Fox News" -- "81 percent of mosques in America are advancing or promoting violence" and argued that Islam should be "declassified as a religion and reclassified as a terrorist organization":
During the segment, host Trish Regan mentioned that Morgan has banned Muslims from her business, but said nothing critical about the policy, instead using it to bolster Morgan's credibility, asking her, "you have to worry about guns getting into the hands of the wrong people, so when you look at the idea of President Obama bringing 10,000 refugees in, many of whom could be extreme Muslims, that worries you, yes?"
Morgan finished her appearance by suggesting that Americans may have to use guns against the refugees: "In America, unlike the other countries who are taking these refugees, I thank God that we have our Second Amendment, and our citizens have a right to bear arms to defend life. So at least we have that edge."