Guns, school shootings, background checks, mental illness

A demonstrator holds a sign saying "Stop Spilling Our Blood" during a protest against guns in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. (Associated Press)
A demonstrator holds a sign saying "Stop Spilling Our Blood" during a protest against guns in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. (Associated Press)

A national school walkout is planned for March 14, 2018, one month to the day after 17 students and faculty members were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The 17-minute walkout, which includes students in the Milwaukee area, is intended as a memorial and as a demonstration for more gun control.

The shooting spurred a number of statements about guns. Here are the gun-related fact checks we’ve done since the shooting.

Background checks

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said 97 percent of gun owners support universal background checks.

Our rating: Mostly True.

Baldwin’s claim accurately cited a figure in the latest national poll, but it applied to households in which there was a gun, not to gun owners per se.

Mental illness

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, said we "have laws on the books designed to prevent people with mental illnesses from getting firearms."

Our rating: Half True.

A federal law, and some state laws, do prohibit people adjudicated as "mentally defective" or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from possessing a gun. But experts say that standard includes people who do not pose a danger to others. And it does not account for a much larger set of people who might be dangerous but have not been diagnosed with, or treated for, a serious mental illness.

How many guns?

Kevin Nicholson, one of two Republicans running in 2018 for Baldwin’s seat, said: "There are more guns in this country than there are people."

Our rating: Half True.

There is no official count of the number of firearms in the United States. In one estimate, for 2009, the number of guns exceeded the population. But the most recent estimate cited by gun-statistics experts puts the figure at 265 million guns as of January 2015, when the population was 320 million.

How many school shootings?

University of Wisconsin-Maidson alumnus Jeff Greenfield, a TV journalist and author, said: "In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1."

Our rating: Mostly False.

By one count widely cited in the news media, there have been 18 incidents in which shots were fired inside or outside of a school or university building in the United States so far in 2018. But only three involved a mass shooting. And the count includes two suicides, three accidental shootings and nine incidents in which there were no fatalities or injuries.

As for the rest of the world, an expert relied on by the New York Times for gun violence statistics told us there is no way to know how many school shootings -- using the definition Greenfield relies on -- have occurred outside of the United States over the past 20 years.