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Claims about gun violence, some true and some distorted, have flooded the national debate following the Florida shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
PolitiFact and its affiliates, including PolitiFact California, have been sorting fact from fiction for years and explaining answers to key questions in the debate. That's led to dozens of fact checks and articles on guns and safety, following both this tragedy and other mass shootings.
After the Florida shooting, PolitiFact National examined the question: "How do we keep schools safe?" Experts said solutions aren’t simple or cheap. They range from reducing access to guns to bolstering mental health to increasing school security.
PolitiFact Wisconsin, meanwhile, investigated a popular but misleading claim by long-time TV commentator Jeff Greenfield on the number of school shootings. The claim asserted there had been 18 in the United States in the first month and a half of 2018.
In reality, PolitiFact Wisconsin found there were 18 incidents involving guns and schools or universities. "But only three involved a mass shooting," it concluded. "And the count includes two suicides, three accidental shootings and nine incidents in which there were no fatalities or injuries." It rated the claim Mostly False.
Since PolitiFact California launched in late 2015, we have produced more than a dozen fact checks and articles on guns and mass shootings. We rated each claim based on information known at the time, so some of the statistics may be outdated. Still, much of the work remains relevant as assertions over guns and gun violence continue to spill into the public square, some vetted and others devoid of fact.
Here is a look at PolitiFact California's fact checks and articles on the topic:
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for governor, claimed on Twitter in June 2017 that "Americans are 25x more likely to be shot & killed than others in developed countries. We've had enough." His tweet coincided with National Gun Violence Awareness day. Newsom’s campaign provided us with a reputable study to back up the claim. But we found a similar study published by the United Nations that reported a slightly lower rate. We concluded Newsom’s statement could have used additional information and rated it Mostly True.
Our article from October 2017 explores the competing definitions for this horrid crime. Our examination focused on California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s claim there had been "273 mass shootings in 2017 -- one for each day of the year." Her statement followed the Las Vegas shooting massacre in which 58 people died. We found there’s no legal definition for mass shootings, though some gun control groups use an overly broad definition of shootings that injure or kill at least four people. This criteria, however, doesn’t require than anyone is killed. Gun rights groups, on the other hand, use much more restrictive definitions. In the end, we found Pelosi’s claim stretched what can be considered an accurate count of mass shootings. We did not rate the statement on our Truth-O-Meter, however, after concluding that the debate on the definition of a mass shooting remains deeply unsettled. There is no widely accepted criteria — at least none that avoids significant problems of its own.
The former presidential candidate echoed Pelosi’s statistic about the number of mass shootings in 2017, claiming, "There have been more than 270 mass shootings in the United States this year alone. That’s where four or more are killed." Her claim is based on the broader definition of mass shootings. But Clinton crucially leaves out the term ‘injured’ and instead says ‘killed.’ While there were hundreds of shootings in 2017 in which four or more people were injured, there were only a small fraction, nowhere near 270, in which four or more people died in a single event. We rated her claim False.
After the deadly Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, lawmakers in California pushed to strengthen the state’s gun regulations. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom led the a successful effort to pass Proposition 63, which is designed to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and require those convicted of serious and violent crimes to immediately surrender firearms. In June 2016, the campaign for the proposition claimed: "More than 32,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence each year."
The number checked out based on data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The claim, however, needed the key clarification that more than 60 percent of those gun deaths result from suicides. We rated it Mostly True.
On the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting late 2016, gun-violence survivor and Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier tweeted a photo of herself holding a card that read #EndGunViolence. Above the photo, the tweet said, "Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, more than seven children per day have died from gun violence." Speier’s claim was supported by CDC data, which shows an average of 7.15 young people per day, aged 0 to 19, died in connection with firearms between 2013 and 2015. But these include all types of gun deaths: accidents, homicides and suicides. Her statement did not clarify that this number applies to both children and teenagers. We rated it Mostly True.
As noted before, politicians are keen to tally the number of mass shootings in a certain time period. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Richard Pan said in December 2015, "So far in 2015, there have been more mass shootings than days." At the time, we relied on a key congressional report that defined a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are killed. We found Newsom and Pan, however, used an extremely broad definition of mass shooting — one that includes incidents in which people are shot, but not killed. We rated this claim Mostly False in February 2016. By late 2017, we declined to rate a similar claim on our Truth-O-Meter, given the deeply unsettled debate over the definition of mass shootings.
"There are at least twice as many licensed firearm dealers in California as there are McDonald’s." That July 2016 claim was made by the Safety For All Initiative, also known as Proposition 63. Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed there were 2,315 authorized firearms dealers and pawnbrokers in California at the time of the fact check, nearly twice the number of McDonald’s. In addition, two other types of authorized gun dealers brought the total closer to 2,900, as measured against the 1,165 Golden Arches. We rated it True.
The gun rights group Firearms Policy Coalition claimed in a June 2016 email that California’s Proposition 63 would restrict not only ammo sales but "criminalize the sharing of bullets between hunting and shooting partners." The initiative, which was approved by voters, does create some new restrictions on bullet sharing. Even so, it allows most people to keep sharing ammunition, as long as they know, within reason, that they’re not sharing with a felon or another person prohibited from owning a gun and ammunition. That also goes for "hunting and shooting partners". The claim gave the wrong impression. We rated it Mostly False.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz repeated a false claim during a 2016 GOP presidential candidates debate, saying "California Senator, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said if she could say to Mr. America and Mrs. America, 'Give me your guns, I'm rounding 'em up,' she would." Cruz’s spokesman pointed to a short segment of a 60 Minutes piece that centered on Feinstein’s assault weapons ban from two decades ago. While Feinstein calls for an "outright ban" in the excerpt, a reasonable look at that sound bite and transcript of the full interview shows Feinstein was not referring to banning "all guns", but rather to assault weapons. We rated it False.
Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez claimed in a 2016 U.S. Senate debate that those convicted of drive-by shootings, those who provide guns to gangs and those who fire a weapon on a school yard would "get out of jail free" if California’s Proposition 57 passed. Experts agreed prisoners who committed crimes deemed ‘nonviolent’ under state law, including the three gun crimes Sanchez listed, could be eligible for early parole under the measure, which voters approved. But early parole is not a "get out of jail" card, especially when less than 20 percent of hearings lead to early release. We found Sanchez distorted the ballot measure proposal, and rated her claim False.
In a press conference the day after Proposition 63 passed, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom claimed California had seen a "56 percent decline in the gun murder rate" since it began imposing tough gun laws in the 1990s. Newsom appears to have mixed up the gun murder rate with the gun death rate. California’s gun murder rate dropped 67 percent between 1993 and 2014, according to data from the CDC. We found gun homicides have indeed declined significantly, and at an even faster rate than what Newsom stated. His claim needed this key clarification, so we rated it Mostly True.
During a sit-in protest by Democrats on the House floor in June 2016, following the Pulse Nightclub shooting, California Rep. John Garamendi said, "You can’t get on an airplane, but more than 2,000 people on that list have been able to buy a gun." We fact-checked a similar statement in December made by California Rep. Mike Thompson, after the San Bernardino shooting. Garamendi appears to be talking about the TSA’s ‘no fly’ list. It turns out, however, he connected the right number with the wrong register: the much larger terrorist watch list. It strained reason, and seemed mathematically impossible, that most of those purchases came from people on the no fly list. We rated it Mostly False.
We’ll update this article with new fact checks and articles as the debate over guns continues in California and across the United States.
See individual fact checks for sources