Earlier today, Independence Institute Research Director Dave Kopel took President Obama to task for his comments in Paris about how no other country has mass shootings like America. During a news conference Tuesday morning, Obama said, “I mean, I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries.” Kopel proceeds to first discuss whether it is true that every time there is a mass shooting, whether Obama makes that statement:
In one sense, the answer would be “yes.” President Obama’s statement was in the form of: “Every time X happens, I say Y.” As a historic self-description of Obama’s own rhetoric, Obama’s statement is mostly true, but only in recent years. When President Obama was running for national office in 2007 through November 2012, he never used mass shootings to compare the United States unfavorably with other countries. Nor did he use mass murders as an occasion to make political demands for gun control. This was his rhetorical approach from the Virginia Tech murders in April 2007, through the Aurora theater murders in July 2012.
However, as President Obama explained to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012, “After my election I have more flexibility.” This was an accurate prediction, and not just about foreign relations. After winning reelection in November 2012, President Obama in December 2012 used the Newtown, Conn., murders as the basis to make gun control the primary focus of his political efforts through April 2013. He has promised that gun control will be his top priority during his final year in office. When commenting on mass murders in the United States, President Obama has repeatedly claimed that such crimes do not occur in other countries.
Thus, the President’s Dec. 1 statement is mostly accurate as a self-description of what he frequently says, at least from December 2012 onward.
Then, Kopel goes to the real question – is America the only country that experiences mass shootings with such frequency:
Suppose we accept the president’s implicit premise that “other countries” includes only the most-developed countries of the West. With this limitation, what is the accuracy of his statement that “these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries”? Plainly false, especially considering that the president was speaking in Paris, the site of multiple mass shootings on Nov. 13 and of the Charlie Hebdo mass shootings in January.
More generally, an October article in the Wall Street Journal looked at mass shootings in 14 countries from 2000 through 2014. The article reported the research of professors Jaclyn Schildkraut (State University of New York Oswego) and H. Jaymi Elsass (Texas State University). They are co-authors of the forthcoming book “Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities,” to be published in 2016 by Praeger. All of the countries had one or more mass shootings in this period, but the United States had by far the most. In terms of per capita fatalities, the United States was fourth, after Norway, Finland and Switzerland. Another article, at the Independent Journal website, provides a “Rampage Shooting Index” for 10 countries, covering 2009-2013. Again, the United States is first in total number of incidents, and sixth in per capita fatalities. (Behind Israel and Slovakia, as well as the previously mentioned nations). Updating the index to account for 2015 would put France ahead of the United States. (French data are reported in the I.J. article, but not the Wall Street Journal article.)
Kopel goes on to point out that if what we define “developed” as meaning a member of the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development, then the U.S. gun homicide rate is about in the middle for “developed” countries. Kopel closed by reminding the reader that he is not the first to point out Obama’s penchant for hyperbole:
As President Obama pointed out today, he has repeatedly made the same claim about “other counties” and mass shootings. When he did so last June, Politifact examined the issue, including the research of Professors Schildkraut and Elsass. Politifact rated the Obama claim “Mostly False.” Yet he continues to make the claim, speaking in a city with repressive gun control and which only 18 days ago suffered a horrific series of mass shootings. President Obama’s second book touted his “audacity,” and the president’s remarks today demonstrated chutzpah.
But don’t look for the sycophants in the press corps to point this out the next time Obama repeats this discredited claim.