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The Gun Lobby’s New Tactic: Redefining 'School Shootings' So They Don’t Count

Posted by on Jun. 15, 2014 at 1:30 AM
  • 56 Replies

If you’d lost the capacity to be appalled by those opposing reform of America’s gun laws, their latest effort should fix that.

Photo Credit: Spinetta/Shutterstock


The drumbeat of news about gun violence in the United States is so steady and rhythmic these days that it’s starting to fade into the background. Another week, another school shooting. One of the biggest risks now is of a population-wide numbness, eroding the will to tackle the crisis. So perhaps we should be grimly grateful whenever the gun lobby demonstrates that it retains the power to horrify.

Case in point: this sequence of tweets by the conservative journalist Charles C Johnson, featured on Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze and onHot Air, and being forwarded enthusiastically everywhere among pro-gun tweeters and bloggers. (I found it via Quinn Norton.)

Johnson takes it upon himself to debunk the claim, made by the gun reform group Everytown for Gun Safety, backed by Michael Bloomberg, that there have been 74 school shootings since Adam Lanza killed 20 children, six adults and himself at Sandy Hook elementary School 18 months ago. In fact, Johnson concludes, there have only been seven. How does he manage this feat of mathematical magic? Simple: by narrowing the definition of “school shooting” so far that almost none of them count.

Let’s be fastidiously fair to Johnson and his supporters by acknowledging that a handful of the incidents he identifies do seem misclassified. Most people, for example, would surely agree that a shooting that doesn't happen on a school campus isn’t a school shooting. But the rest of his alleged debunkings offer a truly depressing glimpse of how pro-gun argumentation works these days.

It doesn’t count, for example, if you’re a student shot at school by a gunman who wasn’t originally planning to shoot up a school that day:

It doesn’t count if the bullet you’re injured by, on school grounds, was discharged accidentally:

It certainly doesn’t count if you’re the one who shoots yourself to death at school:

It isn’t a school shooting even if it’s a shooting, at school, so long as the victim, on this occasion, is an adult rather than a child:

Continued it first reply

by on Jun. 15, 2014 at 1:30 AM
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by Satan on Jun. 15, 2014 at 1:30 AM

It most definitely doesn’t count if the shooting is gang-related – a recurring theme in Johnson's tweets – though he never clarifies why:

It doesn’t count if the shooting arises from a dispute over a games console:

And (there are many, many more similarly tendentious examples, but I'll stop here) it doesn’t count if it was in the school parking lot:

In short – as far as I can follow the logic – the message to parents concerned that there are loaded weapons going off on school property, and that their sons and daughters are at risk of being hit by bullets from those weapons, is this: it doesn't really count unless the shooter is a pupil, not involved in a gang, who made a pre-meditated plan to massacre a large number of students. 

And not in the parking lot.

(If you think this kind of absurdity is confined to the fringe, see this only slightly less mendacious CNN piece, which brings the figure down from 74 to 15 by excluding, among others, shootings motivated by "personal arguments, accidents [or] alleged gang activities and drug deals". Johnson says the cable channel stole his work.)

What’s especially dispiriting about this flat denial of reality is how little prospect it offers for rational discussion or compromise. Even if you're a supporter of gun control, you can still hold a reasoned discussion with somebody who believes that the benefits of widespread firearms ownership outweigh the harms. You can discuss international comparisons; and how no comparable country experiences anything like this level of gun violence; the other person can seek to establish why those comparisons aren't relevant; or that, yes, violent deaths are actually in decline in the US, and so on. But when the pro-gun side of the argument consists of simply insisting that the gun violence that people are so distraught about isn't real gun violence? Then there's no clear way forward at all.

And let’s not forget the bigger point here. A pro-gun journalist applies the most stringent imaginable criteria to the term 'school shooting'; he rejects every instance he possibly can, for reasons many might regard as spurious, and then triumphantly declares that there have only been … seven bona fide school shootings in America since December 2012!

Only seven school shootings since December 2012. 

I hope I never to get to the point at which the word "only" in that sentence makes even the slightest bit of sense.

Oliver Burkeman is a writer for The Guardian based in Brooklyn, New York.

by Mahinaarangi on Jun. 15, 2014 at 7:10 AM
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and this has been the argument by the pro gun crowd in the last three posts.

As long as they can get that number down it somehow PROVES that the gun control crowd are just  fearmongering ?!!

We dont care about those that have been shot in or on school grounds (which was ALL the 74 school shootings stated) ...Because they got some of them wrong and therefore we must dismiss all of them.

sad and disappointing.

by guerrilla girl on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:15 AM
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Don't forget that it doesn't count if the school is a college or university.


by Emerald Member on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:25 AM
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The blood thirsty pigs that support this are devoid of a soul and would happily murder someone with their precious penis extension

They can't wait to be able to murder someone for stepping in their open garage or through a locked screen door or murder some black teens for loud music

They cheer on there maniac killers and hold them as Hero's , some even make posts rejoicing in the profits they are making off the murder of school children

We need to be worried about them they are the ones that want to use their guns to murder people and some are raising kids with the same gun/blood lust. They value things ner than people
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by on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:26 AM
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That's awful.
I was watching the view and they had a cohost, I can't remember his name, but the hot topic was that there have been 70-something school shootings since sandy hook and he says "I don't think it's been that many"
Whoopi says "what do you mean it hadn't been that many"
He says " well if it's been that many or not the fact is gun violence is dramatically down, that's what matters"
Then whoopi says "it may be down but if it's 100, 75, 10 or 1 it's too many man! It's too many"

I agree with whoopi.
by Platinum Member on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:30 AM
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The redefining of "school shooting" to mean anything other than a shooting happening at a school is a pathetic, transparent attempt to down play a very serious issue. Not one person affected by these shootings should have their experience discounted by those looking for political and/or monetary gain.
by Ruby Member on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM
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Ridiculous attitude to take. It doesn't count if it's a dispute or a gang fight? Why the hell not? Are those types of shooting more acceptable?
by Emerald Member on Jun. 15, 2014 at 10:35 AM
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We look at the unrest in other countries and wonder if we should send in troops to help

Yet in America the amount of gun deaths is out of control and 70 some school shootings and we do nothing
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by Ruby Member on Jun. 15, 2014 at 11:57 AM
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Why is this a surprise?  The gun lobby is about $$$, not people or safety.

by on Jun. 15, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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And it doesn't count as a gun incident if the shooter was on any kind of psychotropic drugs.   

Quoting NWP: Don't forget that it doesn't count if the school is a college or university. Ugh Smdh

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