When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
All of these claims are canards. The claim that there is a causal relationship between playing video games and future violence, including mass shootings, has been debunked by academic research. While it is important to limit firearms access for individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others, the existence of a mental health condition alone is an extremely poor predictive factor for future violence. Claims that mass shootings are caused by a liberalized culture are plainly inflammatory attempts at political point scoring. And there is no evidence that locations where guns are not allowed attract mass shooters or that more people carrying guns in public would prevent mass shootings. Additionally, the suggestion that everyone on a military base carry a gun for self-defense has been rejected by a retired four-star general and a Medal of Honor recipient, among other military experts.
Below are examples taken from past mass shootings that show conservative media dishonestly exonerating the role of easy firearm access in gun violence:
After Fort Hood Shooting, Fox Military Analyst Ralph Peters Cited Video Games As A Reason Mass Shootings Are "Semi-Approved In Society." While appearing on The O'Reilly Factor on April 3, Ralph Peters expressed the belief that because of video games and the Internet, mass shootings have "become almost an act of self-actualization that is semi-approved by society," before adding, "I'm exaggerating." [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 4/3/14]
Fox News Segment Linked Video Games To Recent Mass Shootings In Connecticut, Colorado, And Arizona. During a September 2013 segment, Fox News "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow compared video games to a drug that makes people violent and added, "Guns are irrelevant to this problem." Days later in a column following the September 2013 mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard, Ablow wrote that the shooter "was also reportedly addicted to a drug -- violent video games (which are no different than heroin or cocaine, but potentially more of a public health threat)." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 9/13/13, FoxNews.com, 9/17/13]
After Navy Yard Shooting, Fox News Linked Seven Mass Killers To Video Games. Fox News host Steve Doocy claimed that the gunmen responsible for six well-known mass shootings, including Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Columbine, are "all described as essentially being addicted to video games" while a graphic asked, "Link Between Teen Killers & Video Games?"
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/17/13]
Fox News Graphic Bizarrely Suggested The "Motive" In The Fort Hood Shootings Was "Mental Illness." The April 4 edition of Fox & Friends made the claim that the military was eyeing "mental illness as motive," but hours later Fort Hood's commanding general said the shooter's "underlying medical conditions are not a direct precipitating factor. We believe that the immediate precipitating factor was more likely an escalating argument in his unit area."
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, The Washington Post, 4/4/14]
After Navy Yard Shooting, Fox News Host Martha MacCallum Scapegoated People With Mental Health Conditions. While discussing the Navy Yard shooting, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum claimed that we have "become so PC that we do not understand that there are categories of people" who need to be institutionalized. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 9/19/13]
After Columbia, Maryland Mall Shooting, Fox News Psychiatrist Said "It Isn't The Gun" Before Baselessly Speculating About Shooter's Mental State. When discussing the motive of the shooter at the Columbia mall on Fox News, Keith Ablow said, "It isn't the gun. We have a crisis in terms of mental health care." [Fox News, America's News HQ, 1/27/14 via Media Matters]
One Year After Newtown, Frequent Fox Guest Ann Coulter Claimed That Mass Shootings "Correlate With Not Locking Up Crazy People." In a December 2013 column on her website, Coulter wrote that mass shootings "correlate with not locking up crazy people," then added, "Fixating on guns after a crazy person commits mass murder is like draining the ocean to find a ring you dropped." [Ann Coulter, 12/18/13]
LIBERALS AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
After Fort Hood Shooting, Fox News Graphic Linked Attack To "Culture War." During a discussion of the Fort Hood shooting, a Fox & Friends graphic linked the shooting to the "culture war" and asked, "Are Mass Shootings Result Of Changed Society?"
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/4/14]
After Navy Yard Shooting, Conservative Media Falsely Blamed Shooting On Clinton-Era Policy. Even though the policy regulating when and where guns can be carried on military bases was created during the George H.W. Bush administration, Rush Limbaugh and other members of the conservative media used their mistaken belief about when the policy was created to attack President Clinton after the Navy Yard shooting. [Media Matters, 9/17/13]
After Sandy Hook Shooting, Rush Limbaugh Claimed That Mass Shooters Are All Liberals Before Saying, "I Take That Back." Before taking it back, radio host Rush Limbaugh said of mass shooters, "[t]hey all are liberals. If they're mentally disturbed," when discussing the Sandy Hook shooting. Additionally, Fox News host Mike Huckabee said the shooting happened because "we have systematically removed God from our schools," NRA board member Ted Nugent blamed the shooting on "politically correct culture," and a National Review Online writer said the attack was caused by a "feminized setting." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/21/12, Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 12/14/12, Media Matters, 12/19/12]
After Virginia Tech Shooting, Conservative Commentators Blamed Mass Shooting On "The Wussification Of America" And "A General Culture Of Passivity." On Fox News, conservative writer Mark Steyn said "part of the problem" that led to the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 "is a general culture of passivity." Then-conservative talk radio host Neal Boortz invoked "the wussification of America" when discussing the behavior of the victims of the shooting. [Fox News, Your World, 4/19/07 via Media Matters, Media Matters, 4/18/07]
NOT ENOUGH GUNS
After Fort Hood Shooting, Fox News Host Martha MacCallum Suggested That "Lives Could Have Been Saved" With More Armed Individuals. On the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum claimed, "in every one of these cases, what stops these shooters, is another person with a gun who stops them. I mean, we know that. So in this case, if other people had been armed on that base ... it's highly possible that some of these lives could have been saved." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 4/3/14]
After Navy Yard Shooting Conservative Commentators Falsely Characterized Facility As A "Gun-Free Zone" That Invited Attack. Even though guns can be carried on military bases by authorized persons, MacCallum, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and CNN host S.E. Cupp all suggested that easier availability of guns in the Navy Yard facility could have prevented the shooting. [Media Matters,9/16/13]
After Aurora Movie Theater Shooting, Glenn Beck Claimed Shooter "Wouldn't Have Gotten Off More Than Four Shots" If Armed Individuals Present. Talk radio host Glenn Beck claimed of the movie theater shooting in Colorado, "If people had a gun in their back and they were -- and they were licensed to carry it, that guy wouldn't have gotten off more than four shots." His guest Ted Nugent added, "But dear God in heaven, doing nothing is not an option. Training, having a firearm to neutralize an evil gun maniac is a way to go, and we train for that. And I wish I would have been in the theater that day." [The Blaze, The Glenn Beck Program, 7/26/12, via Media Matters]
Image via Flickr user Steve Rhodes using a Creative Commons License.