Fact-checking claims in the wake of the Parkland school shooting
Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, many politicians and advocacy groups have made statements about the root causes of gun violence and how our society should respond.
An organization that fights gun violence attacked Gov. Rick Scott for his support for a controversial gun law. Democrats accused Scott of ending funding for mental health. And conspiracy-minded blogs spread rumors that one of the survivors of the school shooting was a crisis actor.
PolitiFact Florida put those claims on the Truth-O-Meter. Some claims were misleading or flat-out wrong, while others require some context.
Giffords, an organization that fights gun violence, released a TV ad that targets Scott over his support for a controversial gun measure.
"We need to stop dangerous people from getting guns," the ad says. "But Gov. Rick Scott made it illegal for a doctor to ask a patient if they owned a gun, even a mental health professional. This law was so dangerous that a court had to strike it down."
We rated this statement Mostly True.
In 2011, Florida lawmakers crafted the "docs vs. glocks" bill, which Scott signed into law and praised at the time. The bill didn’t flat-out prevent doctors from asking patients if they owned a gun, but said they should refrain from asking about guns unless they believed in good faith the information was relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety. Critics said the law had a chilling effect on doctors who stopped asking questions out of fear they would face discipline.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2017 that part of the law was unconstitutional because it prevented medical professionals from asking questions about firearms and providing patients with life-saving information.
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.
But the figure he cites is misleading.
"When we send our children off to school, we want to know they're safe," Levine says in the ad. "But here in Florida, despite 14 school shootings in eight years, we still have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation."
We rated the claim Mostly False.
The list includes 14 incidents in the last eight years (actually since 2012). But the circumstances of many of the events are quite different than what occurred in Parkland. Seven involved no deaths; four occurred during a fight between specific people or students; and three of the seven incidents that resulted in deaths did not involve students.
Florida does have weak gun laws based on an 2016 analysis from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Florida received an F for its gun laws, the lowest grade a state can receive. But so did 24 other states.
The Florida Democratic Party said that Scott "ended $20 million in funding for mental health care despite Florida already ranking at the bottom."
We rated this claim Half True.
There’s little doubt that Florida ranks near the bottom when it comes to mental health funding.
A one-year nonrecurring funding stream for substance abuse and mental health block grants did end under Scott’s watch. Scott could have used his executive authority to fill the gap, but chose not to do so.
Bloggers on the internet were quick to exploit the tragedy.
One theory that garnered a lot of attention falsely accused David Hogg, a student survivor, of being a paid actor with a past of pushing for additional restrictions on guns.
Plenty of evidence contradicts that claim.
Broward County Public Schools confirmed that Hogg is a senior at Stoneman Douglas. We rated this claim Pants on Fire.
Another conservative website, The Geller Report, portrayed gunman Nikolas Cruz as sharing views of certain Muslims and leftists.
So far Cruz appeared to be a person who had mental illness and a fascination with guns. An Instagram post attributed to him showed he Googled the phrase "Allahu Akbar," but the tone of the post was mocking of Islam. That doesn’t prove that he was immersed in Islamic and left-wing hate. We rated Geller’s statement Pants on Fire, too.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said that "mass shootings went up 200 percent in the decade after the assault weapons ban expired."
Overall, experts caution against pegging an increase solely to the ban’s expiration, and told us Deutch’s claim is based on a flawed analysis because it did not adjust for population changes and used irrelevant data points for comparison.
A separate analysis found an 183 percent increase in mass shootings where six or more people were killed in the decade after the ban, compared with the 10-year ban period. But experts caution against inferring that an increase is due only to the ban’s expiration.
Deutch’s claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rated it Mostly False.
Florida State Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, appeared on CNN to explain why he and his colleagues voted not to consider a bill to ban assault-style weapons.
"A law enforcement officer is more likely to commit a crime than a CWP (concealed weapons permit) holder," Caldwell said Feb. 21.
This is False. In short, the statement rests on the shakiest of statistical foundations.
The article behind Caldwell’s statement treated the number of criminal cases involving officers for the number of officers themselves. According to the researcher that looked at those crimes by police, that alone "mangled" the crime rates of officers.
On the flip side of the ledger, other researchers said that the article relied on a poor measure that would undercount the number of crimes by permit holders. One noted that if a permit holder is killed while committing a crime, the permit is not revoked.