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In the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting, Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine released a TV ad promoting tighter gun restrictions and documenting an alarming number of school shootings in the state.
Levine, the former mayor for Miami Beach released the 30-second ad after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people. Levine will face several other Democratic challengers in the primary on Aug. 28.
"When we send our children off to school, we want to know they're safe," Levine says as he steps off a school bus. "But here in Florida, despite 14 school shootings in eight years, we still have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation."
Have there really been 14 school shootings in Florida since 2010, and does Florida have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation?
There isn’t one uniform way to track school shootings in the United States. Methodologies and definitions vary with each group collecting data, offering a range of numbers on the prevalence of school shootings in recent years.
To back up Levine’s claim, spokesman Christian Ulvert sent PolitiFact Florida a list of 14 events that he described as school shootings. Ulvert said he compiled the list after vetting news articles about shootings. Wikipedia also lists 14 school shootings in Florida over the past eight years.
Ulvert also sent along a tweet from WFTV investigative and political reporter Christopher Heath who reiterated the statistic.
The list indeed includes 14 incidents in the last eight years (actually since 2012). But the descriptions and circumstances of many of the events are quite different than what occurred in Parkland.
March 6, 2012
Episcopal School of Jacksonville
Shane Schumerth, a Spanish teacher who had been fired, went to the Episcopal School of Jacksonville armed with an AK-47. Schumerth shot and killed the Head of the School, Dale Regan. Schumerth then killed himself in the office.
Jan. 7, 2013
Apostolic Revival Center Christian School, Fort Myers, Florida
Kristopher Smith, 27, was killed by gunshots fired at the school. Police believed it to be a retaliation killing, possibly for speaking with police about a previous event. A news report does not mention who killed Smith, including if that person was a student.
March 18, 2013
University of Central Florida
James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30-year-old student, pulled a fire alarm at the Tower One dormitory to attract a crowd. After threatening to shoot his roommate; he released the roommate, who ran out and called 9-1-1. Seevakumaran then fatally shot himself in the head.
Oct. 4, 2013
Outside Agape Christian Academy
A 16-year-old student was shot in the hip outside of the academy after a fight broke out. An innocent bystander was hit by a stray bullet or shrapnel. Two victims were treated for minor injuries.
Dec. 4, 2013
Near a soccer field on the campus of West Orange High School
A 17-year-old student shot and injured a 15-year-old student near a soccer field on campus.
Jan. 30, 2014
Parking lot of Eastern Florida State College
A student and two others were fighting in a parking lot when the student pulled out a gun and shot one of the men in the chest.
March 12, 2014
Behind the Academy of Knowledge Preschool
An elementary school teacher was shot and killed by her husband.
Sept. 9, 2014
Parking lot of Stellar Leadership Academy in northwest Miami-Dade
After a fight broke out, someone fired a gun. One person was injured.
Nov. 20, 2014
Near the Strozier Library at Florida State University
A gunman opened fire on FSU’s campus, leaving three students injured before he was killed by campus police.
Nov. 20, 2014
Miami Carol City High School
Two teenagers were shot during a fight. One boy died.
Jan. 16, 2015
Parking lot of Vanguard High School in Ocala, Fla.
A gunman opened fired in the parking lot, injuring one 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old woman. (Woman was cut by glass)
Feb. 23, 2015
Music building at Bethune-Cookman University
Two students were arguing and one pulled out a gun. Three students were injured.
May 12, 2015
Jacksonville (a school bus on 118th Street)
A 16-year-old student was accused of firing five bullets at a school bus. Two students were injured.
Feb. 14, 2018
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
A 19-year-old former student began shooting students and staff members with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people and leaving 14 more injured.
So there are 14 documented incidents in which a gun was fired inside a school or on or near school property since 2012.
Of those shootings shootings:
Seven involved no deaths;
Four occurred during a fight between specific people or students;
Three of the seven incidents that resulted in deaths did not involve students;
One was an incident between a wife and her husband.
We presented the list from Levine’s office to Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Justice at the State University of New York at Oswego. Schildkraut said she only considered two of the incidents "school shootings" — the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas and the Nov. 20, 2014, shooting at Florida State University.
She said the shooters at Stoneman Douglas and FSU had similar motivations, unlike the other incidents on the list that happened after or during an altercation.
"He goes into a place that he knows is populated and randomly starts shooting," she said. "It’s not targeted violence like the fights and the case where a woman was shot by her husband."
To back this point up, Ulvert sent PolitiFact Florida a link to an NBC News article that cited a 2016 report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that supports more restrictive gun regulation.
Florida does have weak gun laws based on this analysis, but saying it has some of the weakest requires context. According to the report, Florida received an F for its gun laws, the lowest grade a state can receive.
But so did 24 other states.
Grades are assigned based on how many "points" a state earns. The more points, the better the grade. For example, states can earn points if they require a background check for every firearm sale and lose points for laws that allow people to carry concealed, loaded guns in public without a permit, among other things.
In a news release, Giffords Law Center also notes that in 2016 Florida had "the nation’s 26th highest gun death rate … and was ranked the 26th worst state for firearm laws."
Giffords said Mississippi received the worst score in 2016. While Mississippi received an F last year, its ranking dropped from 49 to 50 because it enacted a law that allows people to carry hidden, loaded guns in public without a license.
Following the shooting, Giffords Law wrote a news brief pointing out some of Florida’s permissive laws, which included the state’s pre-emption law that sought to prevent local governments from passing new gun restrictions on their own. The organization claims the law was "designed to severely restrict local authority to regulate firearms."
It also said that Florida’s "stand your ground" law was amended recently to make it "even more dangerous."
Levine said that "despite 14 school shootings in eight years (in Florida), we still have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation."
Levine can count 14 instances in the past eight years where guns were discharged on school grounds. But describing those 14 instances as school shootings is misleading, an expert told us, particularly when compared with, and in the context of, the shooting in Parkland.
A group that supports tighter gun restrictions, meanwhile, says that Florida does have weak gun laws. But two dozen states share that same description.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Interview, Christian Ulvert, spokesman for Philip Levine, Feb. 21, 2018
Interview, Jaclyn Schildkraut, assistant professor in the Department of Public Justice at OSWEGO, Feb. 22, 2018
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Gun Law State Scorecard 2016, accessed Feb. 22
PolitiFact, What we know about mass shootings, Feb. 14, 2018
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Mostly False: 18 U.S. school shootings so far in 2018 and 18 in rest of the world over past 20 years, Feb. 15, 2018
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