No, there have not been hundreds of "mass shootings" -- unless you redefine the term

Posted on: Fri, 12/04/2015 - 15:29 By: Tom Swiss

Mother Jones's reporting on guns and violence is often inaccurate. Even here MJ editor Mark Follman repeats the invalid complaint that Congress has prevented the CDC from researching gun violence -- criminal violence is the domain of criminologists, not disease experts. (The problem is that criminologists keep saying gun prohibition laws don't prevent violence, and so prohibitionists try to misapply methods from other domains to get the answer they want.) But he is spot on in this analysis of the problematic redefinition of "mass shooting".

How Many Mass Shootings Are There, Really? (

On Wednesday, a Washington Post article announced that “The San Bernardino shooting is the second mass shooting today and the 35Or that a late-night shooting on a street in Savannah, Ga., yesterday that injured three and killed one is in the same category as the madness that just played out in Southern California.5th this year.” Vox, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, this newspaper and others reported similar statistics...[Y]ou could be forgiven for wondering how you missed more than 300 other such attacks in 2015.

At Mother Jones, where I work as an editor, we have compiled an in-depth, open-source database covering more than three decades of public mass shootings. By our measure, there have been four “mass shootings” this year, including the one in San Bernardino, and at least 73 such attacks since 1982.

What explains the vastly different count? The answer is that there is no official definition for “mass shooting.” Almost all of the gun crimes behind the much larger statistic are less lethal and bear little relevance to the type of public mass murder we have just witnessed again. Including them in the same breath suggests that a 1 a.m. gang fight in a Sacramento restaurant, in which two were killed and two injured, is the same kind of event as a deranged man walking into a community college classroom and massacring nine and injuring nine others....

While all the victims are important, conflating those many other crimes with indiscriminate slaughter in public venues obscures our understanding of this complicated and growing problem. Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them — and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise.

The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control (Cato Institute)

Posted on: Tue, 12/01/2015 - 21:27 By: Tom Swiss

Law professor David Kopel looks at the facts around "universal background checks" and bans on "assault weapons" and "high-capacity" magazines, and explains why these laws won't help prevent violence, only criminalize ordinary citizens.

Kopel is an analyst for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank that's quite right on some issues (the "war on drugs", mass incarceration) and quite wrong on others (capitalism). But even when it's wrong, its arguments are thoughtful and well-informed.

My favorite sentence from the paper rather sums up the problem with firearm prohibition laws: " If gangsters can obtain all the cocaine they want, despite a century of prohibition, they will be able to obtain 15-round magazines."

The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control (Cato Institute)

It is unfortunate that Obama chose to disparage those who disagree with him for their supposed fixation on grubby “politics” and indifference to murder victims. Whether Obama realizes it or not, there are good reasons to be skeptical of gun-control policies. This paper will scrutinize the three most common gun-control ideas that have been put forward in recent years: universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on assault weapons. These proposals are misguided and will not prevent the crimes that typically prompt officials to make pleas for more gun control. Policymakers can take some steps to incapacitate certain mentally ill persons who are potentially violent. Yet, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that gun laws often cannot stop a person bent on murder. Policymakers should not pretend otherwise.

concealed carry in the, um, nether regions

Posted on: Fri, 04/25/2014 - 10:37 By: Tom Swiss

Maybe she got confused by the "this my rifle, this is my gun" thing?

Teen Arrested With Loaded Gun In Vagina: Cops (The Huffington Post)

Cops say a Tennessee teen who got arrested for driving with a suspended license on Monday had a surprise in store for police.

When a female corrections officer at Kingsport jail performed a search on 19-year-old Dallas Archer, she allegedly discovered an "unknown object" lodged in the young woman's crotch. She alerted another female officer, who accompanied her during a further examination, according to documents obtained by the Smoking Gun.

Chicago man responds to 22 cent tax on soda with a .22

Posted on: Tue, 04/15/2014 - 09:47 By: Tom Swiss

1.) No, the Intratech .22 is not a "submachine gun", it's a quite ordinary pistol. As usual, anything you read in the corporate media about firearms is likely to be wrong, meant to cause eyeball-grabbing moral panic. 2.) Whipping out a gun to protest taxes, guy could almost be a teabagger. 22 cents, .22 caliber, someone could make an interesting tax protest slogan here. 3.) Illinois has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, and Chicago bans the sale of guns within the city limits. Yet this convicted felon had a gun. Huh, how about that. Maybe, instead of worrying that if we let law-abiding citizens have their rightful access to the tools of self-defense they might suddenly go insane and hurt people, we need to devote our resources to supervising people who have actually already gone and hurt people?

Angry over 22-cent tax on soda, man pulls out submachine gun in store: police - Chicago Sun-Times

Nahshon Shelton didn’t want to pay the 22-cent tax on his $1.79 two-liter of Pepsi on Saturday afternoon, Chicago Police said.

So he allegedly pulled a blue-steel Intratec .22-caliber submachine [not. -tms] gun out of his Gucci satchel inside the convenience store in the 4000 block of West Madison Street where they tried to make him pay it — and he threatened to kill everyone there, a prosecutor said.

the spectre of the gun

Posted on: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 17:11 By: Tom Swiss

In American culture, guns have long since ceased to be actual objects. They are instead sub-cultural touchstones, objects of fear and loathing by one side, of veneration on the other. Today's news offers the perfect juxtaposition of stories to illustrate.

In Columbus, Ohio, a boy was suspended for pointing his fingers pistol-style at another student:

Boy points finger like gun, gets suspended (The Columbus Dispatch)

A Columbus principal suspended a student for three days last week after the child pointed a "lookalike firearm” at another student in class and pretended to shoot.

The boy’s age? 10. The “level 2 lookalike firearm” cited in his suspension letter? His finger.

Meanwhile, at the National Harbor just outside of DC, Republican Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came onto the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a rifle raised over his head:

Mitch McConnell Brandishes Gun at CPAC (ABC News)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came onto the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference today brandishing [...] a long gun.

McConnell held the rifle over his head and the CPAC crowd loved it.

Moments later, McConnell handed the gift, a lifetime achievement award from the National Rifle Association, to his retiring colleague, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who is leaving his term early for health reasons.

Why Hasn’t The Media Been Reporting On Or Booking Pro-Gun Newtown Parent Mark Mattioli? (Mediaite)

Posted on: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 15:21 By: Tom Swiss

If Obama's going to exploit parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting to push his agenda, it seems fair to point out that not all of those parents agree with his plan. Funny how this gets no news coverage. From Mediaite: Why Hasn’t The Media Been Reporting On Or Booking Pro-Gun Newtown Parent Mark Mattioli?

Some of the most compelling voices in the current debate over gun violence are those who have been touched by it, particularly the parents of the twenty children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14. It’s strange, then, that one of those parents, Mark Mattioli, has simultaneously been white-washed and virtually blacked out of the media’s post-Newtown coverage....


...[T]he testimony of several other parents received widespread attention, particularly that of Neil Heslin, whose testimony was interruppted by shouts from gun advocates. Mattioli’s testimony, however, received very little attention, and what attention it did get was manipulated to obscure his apparent political views. The New York Times published a piece quoting Mr. Mattioli’s opposition to new gun laws, but softened the more explicitly political portion of his testimony. CNN similarly avoided Mattioli’s politics, while reporting a “divide” on gun control in Newtown.

(Of course, in a sane country we'd be looking at actual research and evidence on crime and violence to figure out whether locking people up for possessing unapproved firearms would make us safer and more free, rather than trying to dig up pathos-filled anecdotes...but, yeah, good luck on that.)

ABC covers for Michelle Obama's error about "automatic weapons"

Posted on: Thu, 03/07/2013 - 12:46 By: Tom Swiss

Between Joe Biden's stupid statements about firing shotguns, and now the First Lady's inaccurate remark about "automatic weapons", the administration keeps putting its foot in its mouth. (Or perhaps "shooting itself in the foot" is a better metaphor.) Michelle Obama's reference to automatic weapons edited out by ABC (

First lady Michelle Obama said in a "Good Morning America" interview Tuesday that an automatic weapon was used in the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton , but that detail — which is not supported by police accounts — was edited out when the interview was aired and posted to ABC's website.


"She was standing out in a park with her friends in a neighborhood blocks away from where my kids ... grew up, where our house is. She had just taken a chemistry test. And she was caught in the line of fire because some kids had some automatic weapons they didn't need. I just don't want to keep disappointing our kids in this country. I want them to know that we put them first."

However, in the video clip that appears online, the mention of "automatic weapons" was edited out:

"She was standing out in a park with her friends in a neighborhood blocks away from where my kids grow — grew — up, where our house is. … And she was caught in the line of fire. ... I just don't want to keep disappointing our kids in this country. I want them to know that we put them first."

Police believe the gun in question was a revolver, because no shell casings were found at the scene. It could have been a semiautomatic handgun fired by someone who cleaned up their brass, but semiautomatic is not automatic -- automatic weapons are very strictly regulated, not generally available to ordinary civilians.

Conflating semiautomatic guns, which use some of the energy from one shot to load a round into the chamber and cock the hammer for the next shot, with automatic weapons capable of continuous or burst fire, is a rhetorical tactic used by some dishonest or ignorant gun control advocates. I'll give Mrs. Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume that she just didn't know what the heck she was talking about.

But more disappointing than her ignorance about guns (she doesn't have to know about them to be First Lady, but if she's going to comment on the the subject she needs to have a grasp of the fundamentals) is ABC apparently covering for her. The idea that this blatant factual error was "cut for time" does not pass the sniff test.

from the missing-the-point department: General McChrystal on guns

Posted on: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 01:56 By: Tom Swiss

Making the rounds: General Stanley McChrystal's curious statement about guns has been getting a lot of likes from gun control advocates:

" M-4 Carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeter at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits the human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that and that’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I, personally, don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets, and, particularly, around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look."

General McChrystal seems somehow to have missed the point rather widely. If someone is attacking you, presenting an immediate threat to your life (or that of another innocent person), you need a weapon that will stop them quickly and reliably.

That means, unfortunately, devastating their bodies. There is no reliable way of quickly rendering an attacker harmless that does not involve a potentially lethal level of damage to their body. I wish we could give everyone a phaser set to stun, but it's not the case. It's unpleasant to contemplate, but the whole point of defensive firearm use is to devastate someone's body.

General McChrystal was speaking about 5.56mm rifle rounds. Rifles -- of all sorts -- are used in only about 3% of homicides in the U.S. If we pretend that we could make all rifles disappear, and that people who would use them to commit crimes wouldn't just substitute handguns, and that no one ever uses them defensively, the impact on violent crime would be still be statistically imperceptible. So the general may be knowledgeable about warfare, but his statement here suggests he doesn't know much about violent crime.

It's worth noting that at close range, that small but fast bullet is not much more lethal (in some case, less lethal) than a larger but slower bullet from a large-caliber handgun.

And compared to other rifle rounds, like the sort used in the M1 rifles soldiers carried in WWII or by "big game" hunters, the 5.56 is actually less powerful; it's an intermediate-power round, not a high-power one.

Sam Harris: The Riddle of the Gun

Posted on: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 09:35 By: Tom Swiss

Sam Harris, author of several best-selling books on secularism and reason, has written the most rational recent piece on guns and violence I've seen: The Riddle of the Gun

Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want.


It is reasonable to wish that only virtuous people had guns, but there are now nearly 300 million guns in the United States, and 4 million new ones are sold each year. A well-made gun can remain functional for centuries. Any effective regime of “gun control,” therefore, would require that we remove hundreds of millions of firearms from our streets. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out in The Atlantic, it may no longer be rational to hope that we can solve the problem of gun violence by restricting access to guns—because guns are everywhere, and the only people who will be deterred by stricter laws are precisely those law-abiding citizens who should be able to possess guns for their own protection and who now constitute one of the primary deterrents to violent crime. This is, of course, a familiar “gun nut” talking point. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

mass shootings with reloading; the state of the "conversation" on guns

Posted on: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 14:09 By: Tom Swiss

Over on Facebook recently, in a comment thread following up on a bizarre NYT op-ed suggesting we abandon the Constitution, the conversion turned (as it often does these days) to firearms politics and to the recent outbreak in mass shootings. In that thread, one person wrote:

Its not hard to reload a handgun quickly...especially if you're shooting from a distance. It's not like there weren't mass shootings when the Brady Bill was around

Note that the Brady Bill is still in effect, so this is an erroneous comment. But the point about reloading a handgun is true: for someone who practices (not me, but a dedicated shootist), changing magazines of a semi-automatic handgun or using a speed loader to reload a revolver is not difficult.

In reply, a friend -- a very smart and talented woman but someone who doesn't know a lot about the topic -- wrote:

Name a mass shooting that took place as you've described - with a guy standing around reloading a handgun. It doesn't happen.

So, replying to the request/challenge that she posted, I spent some time looking up the topic of mass shootings with handguns where the shooter reloaded -- which was educational, but depressing as all hell. It turned out that her comment was also erroneous. I posted what I found.

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