Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley falsely claimed that the FBI misrepresented data on mass shootings to “help drive Democratic turnout” during the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the report only contained data on “active shooter” situations, not mass shootings, and made that clear in the introduction, which stated, “This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings.”
In a June 9 editorial headlined, “Obama's Gun-Control Misfire,” Riley wrote, “Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply -- by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013.”
But the 2014 FBI report, which focuses on 160 incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, literally says it is not about “mass shootings,” but rather a different phenomenon known as an “active shooter” situation. From the report's introduction (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.
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,” and found that such incidents occurred with increasing frequency over a 13-year period starting in 2000.
In his opinion piece, Riley used his inaccurate reading of the report to claim that the Obama administration hoped to use the report to help Democrats win in the 2014 midterm elections and to advance its own gun safety agenda:
The White House could not possibly have been more pleased with the media reaction to these findings, which were prominently featured by the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, the Washington Post and other major outlets. The FBI report landed six weeks before the midterm elections, and the administration was hoping that the gun-control issue would help drive Democratic turnout.
Following the high-profile mass shootings in 2012 at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the White House pushed hard for more gun-control legislation. Congress, which at the time included a Democratic-controlled Senate, refused to act. This surprised no one, including an administration well aware that additional gun controls wouldn't pass muster with enough members of the president's own party, let alone Republicans.
But the administration also knew that the issue could potentially excite Democratic base voters in a year when the party was worried about turnout. Hence President Obama's vow in his 2014 State of the Union address “to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”
To attack the report's credibility, Riley cited criticism of it from discredited gun researcher John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott has a history of manipulating statistics and making false claims about guns to advance his pro-gun agenda, and he is the author of the well-known but thoroughly debunked “more guns, less crime” hypothesis. Lott, who is not considered a credible source for information about mass shootings, recently claimed Fox News is partnering with him to “start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders.” (According to an analysis of 62 mass shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones, no such cases exist.)
Riley's false accusations are the latest in a series of outlandish and baseless criticisms of the Obama administration and gun laws. In a 2014 appearance on Fox News, he said “The administration already has enough race baiters, starting with the president continuing to Eric Holder, his attorney general.” In 2013, he said controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws "[benefit], disproportionately, poor blacks," even though research has shown that killings defended with such laws are much more likely to be found justified when a white person killed a black person, rather than the reverse.