The Washington Post gave discredited gun researcher John Lott a platform to push repeatedly disproven nonsense

The Washington Post published an op-ed by gun violence researcher and National Rifle Association favorite John Lott Jr., in which he rehashed false claims that nearly all mass shootings occur in so-called “gun-free zones.” Lott’s claim has previously been debunked by the Post’s own fact checker.

The Post published the article co-authored by Lott and Virginia Republican state Sen. Richard Black ahead of a Virginia legislature special session on firearms scheduled to start on July 9. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam called the special session after a gunman opened fire in a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31, killing 12. During the session, the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly will vote on proposals to ban silencers and high-capacity magazines, to implement universal background checks, to limit gun purchases to one handgun per month, and to extend the state’s ban on guns in city buildings.

In the July 5 op-ed, Lott and Black pushed back on the idea that new gun safety measures are needed following the Virginia Beach shooting and repeated the false claim that “since 1950, 98 percent of mass public shootings in the United States have occurred in places where general citizens can’t shoot back.” The authors blamed the media for their “unbalanced reporting” and for ignoring “stories of armed private citizens stopping would-be mass public shootings,” which they claimed is the reason why “so many people are unaware of the enormous benefits of concealed carry”:

Mass public shooters want to kill as many people as possible, so they deliberately attack gun-free zones. Since 1950, 98 percent of mass public shootings in the United States have occurred in places where general citizens can’t shoot back. Unlike his law-abiding colleagues, the ban didn’t stop the Virginia Beach killer.

Instead of abolishing gun-free zones, the Virginia Beach City Council has taken the wrong lesson from the attack. Now, the city government is pushing to create even more gun-free zones, oblivious to the fact that the killer, who shot people in the operations building, was already banned from having guns there.

Given the mainstream media’s persistent failure to mention when an attack occurs in a gun-free zone, the Virginia Beach City Council’s misguided reaction is understandable.

The media’s omission of facts is sometimes so flagrant that it seems intentional. After the Virginia Beach attack, the Wall Street Journal noted, “In Virginia, it is legal to carry guns into public buildings, with a few exceptions.” While literally true, it is completely misleading not to explain that one of those exceptions forbids Virginia Beach employees from carrying permitted guns in public buildings where they work.

The national media also ignores stories of armed private citizens stopping would-be mass public shootings. On the rare occasions that they do cover the stories, they get them wrong.

There have been dozens of such cases in recent years. Last fall, at a back-to-school event in Titusville, Fla., more than 200 youths were present when a man started firing his gun into the crowd. Fortunately, a vendor with a concealed handgun permit stepped in and shot the attacker, seriously injuring him. “This person stepped in and saved a lot of people’s lives,” Titusville Police Sgt. William Amos said. “He’s a hero.”

With biased news coverage like this, it is hardly surprising that so many people are unaware of the enormous benefits of concealed carry. The media’s unbalanced reporting of shootings comes at a great cost to society.

The Washington Post Fact Checker previously debunked Lott’s “98 percent” claim. The Post cited another study by advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety which “found that 10 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 took place in gun-free zones.” Lott’s data from the same time period showed “about 86 percent of mass public shootings.” The Post found that Lott had selectively defined his research parameters to reach high numbers for mass shootings (an incident where four or more people are shot, not including the gunman). He included only those mass shootings that happened in public, excluding mass shootings that occurred in private residences and those that happened during the commission of another crime. Lott’s definition of a “gun- free zone” has also come under scrutiny: He characterized both Fort Hood, TX, and Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard as “gun-free zones” because citizens are prohibited from carrying private weapons, even though armed guards are present there.

Another Everytown study that mapped mass shootings between 2009 and 2015 further illustrates Lott’s manipulation of data. The study showed that 91 of the 134 mass shootings (68%) documented “took place wholly in private residences.” Of the remaining 37 public mass shootings, “at least 21 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried.” The remaining 17 incidents -- or just 13% of total mass shootings -- “took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called ‘gun-free zones.’” 

The argument that a concealed carrier, or “good guy with a gun,” is the best defense against a potential mass shooter is an extremely popular right-wing myth with no evidence. An FBI study of 160 active-shooter incidents from 2000-2013 in which “individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in populated areas” found that only four incidents were stopped by armed security guards and just one was stopped by a licensed and armed citizen, compared to 21 incidents that were stopped by unarmed citizens. In 2016, the Dallas police chief explained that this type of armed civilian intervention actually creates more confusion for responding officers, and a 2015 analysis by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found “that having a gun provides no statistically significant benefit to a would-be victim during a criminal confrontation.” 

Black, Lott’s op-ed co-author, previously sponsored a bill to allow Virginia gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, and he is a vocal supporter of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a local pro-gun group that claimed “the NRA did not go far enough” in “calling for armed guards at schools across the country." VCDL has also argued in its newsletter that if the group did not obtain its goals through the legislative process that violent remedies were an option. Beyond gun issues, Black frequently makes inflammatory claims. He has previously said spousal rape shouldn’t be a crime and accused Great Britian of trying to carry out a chemical attack on civilians that would then be blamed on Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Lott has spent a career relentlessly pushing false and debunked pro-gun myths and advocating against any gun safety measures. Media shouldn’t give him a platform to spew his nonsense unchecked.