Fox News relied on claims from discredited gun researcher John Lott to falsely suggest that an FBI report inflated the occurrence of mass shootings, possibly for political reasons. In fact, the report in question covered only “active shooter situations” and explicitly noted in its introduction, “This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings.”
In September 2014, the FBI released a report on 160 active shooter situations that occurred between 2000 and 2013. The report counted 1,043 total casualties and noted that over the 13-year period, the incidence of active shooter incidents rose. In its report, the FBI defined an active shooter situation as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”
Lott, who often manipulates statistics to push a pro-gun agenda and is the inventor of the discredited “more guns, less crime” hypothesis, attacked the report in The New York Post last year with the false claim that the “FBI study discusses 'mass shootings or killings.'” Based on this false premise, Lott wrote that several of the incidents in the FBI report don't meet accepted definitions of mass shootings and therefore the report was “bogus” and being “used to promote a political agenda.”
Lott's falsehoods on the FBI report are now being promoted on Fox News. On the March 25 edition of Fox & Friends First, host Heather Childers reported the claim of Lott's group, the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), that FBI data on mass shootings “may have been overstated for political purposes.” While Childers spoke, onscreen text warned viewers of the supposedly “SHODY [sic] STATS” :
CHILDERS: Are the number of mass shootings getting blown out of proportion by the government? Well the Crime Prevention Research Center says that FBI stats on mass shootings are inflated. The CPRC says because of errors and biases, the FBI data shows twice as many mass shootings than really occurred. The organization says that the stats may have been overstated for political purposes.
Childers' report follows a March 24 FoxNews.com article with the headline, “FBI figures tweaked to show phony increase in mass shootings, report says.”
The article credulously promotes Lott's falsehoods about the FBI report. But ten paragraphs into the article it notes, “However, in an introduction from a copy of the report, the authors did appear to differentiate between 'mass killings' and 'active shooter incidents'” -- a line that undermines the entire premise of the article and negates Lott's claims about the FBI report.
In a post at CPRC's website, Lott touted how the “Fox News story on our research about the FBI fudging mass shooting statistics is at the very top of the website and is the most viewed story.”
The FBI report is transparent in that it covers the phenomenon of “active shooter situations” but not mass killings or mass shootings. As its introduction notes (emphasis added):
This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence--pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public-- were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope. Nonetheless, it was undertaken to provide clarity and data of value to both law enforcement and citizens as they seek to stop these threats and save lives during active shooter incidents.
Over the 13 year period studied, the FBI found an increase in the incidence of active shooter situations: