High 5: Gun fact checks, in wake of Vegas shooting, get most page-views

Police officers and medical personnel stand at the scene of a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Multiple victims were being sent to hospitals after a shooting Sunday. AP photo.
Police officers and medical personnel stand at the scene of a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Multiple victims were being sent to hospitals after a shooting Sunday. AP photo.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said that tax cuts and reforms are the GOP's top priority. (Getty Images)
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said that tax cuts and reforms are the GOP's top priority. (Getty Images)

The mass shooting in Las Vegas produced three of our fact checks that got the most page-views during October 2017. The checks covered how mass shootings are counted, the legality of "assault rifles" and Americans’ high support for universal background checks.

There was also many clicks on fact checks about how few Americans pay the so-called "death tax," which leading Republicans want to eliminate as part of their federal tax reform proposal, and how it’s not so clear that the overall proposal is aimed at the middle class.

Here’s a rundown of the month’s High Five.

1. The Las Vegas shooting was the "273rd mass shooting" in the United States so far in 2017.

Rating: Half True.

The claim by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was made two days after a gunman perched high in a Las Vegas hotel suite killed 59 people who had gathered for an outdoor country music concert. More than 500 people were injured.

Baldwin cited a source that arrived at that figure using a very broad definition of mass shooting. Other sources use narrower definitions that yield much lower counts.

2. "Assault rifles already are banned."

Rating: Mostly False.

This June 2016 fact check was on a statement made by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. The statement was made the day after a man with a semiautomatic rifle killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. That item got new attention after the Las Vegas shooting.

Some, including Johnson, contend that only weapons that are automatic — firing continuously when the trigger is held down — are assault weapons. Those are essentially prohibited by federal laws. But that definition is narrow, and Johnson’s claim gives a misleading impression of a comprehensive ban.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others widely refer to many semiautomatic weapons like the rifle used in Orlando and other mass shootings — which reload automatically but fire only once each time the trigger is depressed — as assault weapons. Those are not banned by federal law.

3. What Republicans call the "death tax" is the estate tax "on the ultra wealthy" which, in 2016, was paid by only "two out of every 1,000 people."

Rating: True.

The statement was made by U.S. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, about one proposal in the GOP tax reform package.

Republicans who are proposing to eliminate the estate tax do use the "death tax" term. In 2016, the tax, generally 40 percent, applied only to estates worth $5.45 million or more. After deductions, the tax was paid by only about two out of every 1,000 people who died.

4. 90 percent of Americans "support universal background checks" for gun purchases.

Rating: True.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, also speaking after the Las Vegas shooting, made that statement.

"Universal" is the term for background checks to be done on every gun sale. We found support for that policy at 94 percent in the latest national poll. Support ranged between 84 percent and 89 percent in the four other most recent polls. Experts say support at or near 90 percent has been consistent for years.

5. The Republican tax reform proposal is focused on tax breaks for the middle class "and not about people who are really high-income earners getting a tax break."

Rating: Mostly False.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, made the statement to conservative talk show host Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel the day after President Donald Trump announced the reform proposal.

Missing details make it difficult to tease out exactly how various taxpayers would fare, so it’s possible there will be more for middle-class taxpayers. But based on the framework of the proposal, while there are some benefits for the middle class, what’s more clear is there are specific provisions benefiting the wealthy.