With even some Republicans talking about an assault rifle ban, the National Rifle Association has been quick to reject the idea that it might help.
On ABC News’ This Week, host George Stephanopoulos suggested that nations with stricter limits see fewer mass shootings. NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch challenged that before Stephanopoulos even fully asked his question. Here’s their Feb. 25 exchange:
Stephanopoulos: "We are the only country that has wide access to these kind of weapons and no one else has the frequency or the intensity of these kind of mass shootings…"
Loesch: "That’s actually not true."
Stephanopoulos: "...mass shooting that we do."
Loesch: "That’s actually not true."
Stephanopoulos: "That is."
Loesch: "France had a higher casualty rate in one year than the entire two administrations of Barack Obama. And they’re a fifth of our population."
Really? France saw more casualties in a single year than America saw in eight?
The NRA press office told us Loesch drew from an analysis by the Crime Prevention Research Center, a group that does research in support of policies favored by gun rights advocates. While Loesch didn’t specify the year, that article compared deaths and injuries in "mass public shootings" in France in 2015 with casualties from similar events in the United States between 2009 and 2016.
In 2015, France had 150 deaths and 382 injured, for a total of 532.
On the American side, between 2009 and 2016, there were 264 deaths, 263 injured for a total of 527.
As many will remember, 2015 was a horrific year of terrorist attacks in France. In January, two men who claim allegiance to Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula opened fire in the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The death toll rose even higherwith a series of attacks on Nov. 13 by a well-organized Islamic State cell in and around the Bataclan Theater in Paris. A total of 132 people died.
But 2015 was an aberration for France.
The Global Terrorism Database at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism shows that between 2009 and 2014, attacks with guns killed eight people. In 2016, there was one victim. Our French fact-checking colleagues at Liberation found a steady rate of more conventional firearm deaths over the years. (The policy focus is on firearms but it’s important to add that a truck attack killed 86 people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice in 2016.)
In contrast, mass shooting attacks in the United States occur regularly, punctuated by particularly horrific events.
Loesch’s statistic cherry-picks one bad year and sets it against a more systemic pattern in America.
Criminologists and terrorism experts agree that there are significant differences between mass shootings like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the Bataclan attacks.
The primary distinction is the motivations of the shooters.
The motives of teenager Nikolas Cruz in Florida might never be fully understood, but the ISIS cell in Paris had a clear political agenda.
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism includes an attack in its dataset if the act is "aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal," and if there’s "an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience."
Consortium director William Braniff said it’s likely "that some of the preventative steps we might take to mitigate the likelihood of one kind of violence will be different than for others."
Terrorism researcher Jeff Gruenewald at Indiana University told us that terrorist acts generally take shape differently, giving law enforcement different ways to prevent them.
"Terrorists may plan longer, farther away from their targets, or they may be more likely to communicate with other like-minded individuals and groups through channels that can be intercepted," Gruenewald said. "Terrorist shooters may also choose different forms of symbolic targets than other types of shooters, which has consequences for anti-terrorism measures."
Gruenewald also noted that many state and federal laws explicitly target terrorism, pointing to a broad consensus that such attacks are different from other violent activity.
Jaclyn Schildkraut at the State University of New York in Oswego echoed that point.
Schildkraut has compiled mass shooting statistics across 11 developed nations in North America and Europe. She said in the United States, the response to terrorism and the response to mass shootings puts the difference in sharp contrast.
"After 9-11, we saw massive changes in laws and programs," Schildkraut said. "We’ve seen few changes in response to mass shootings."
Schildkraut, however, argued that access to weapons is not a critical matter. Criminals, she said, will find ways to get high-powered firearms. The issue too often in the United States, she said, has been a breakdown in existing control systems that ought to have blocked firearm purchases by shooters.
By cross-checking across three datasets, we can separate terrorism and non-terrorism shootings in France and the United States. We worked with the table in the article from the Crime Prevention Research Center, mass shootings in America tracked by Mother Jones magazine, and the Global Terrorism Database.
If the Global Terrorism Database included the event, we flagged it in the other two datasets. Segregating those casualties eliminated all but seven casualties in France – four dead and three injured at a Roma encampment in Roye, France.
On the American side, that process also flagged the San Bernardino, the Pulse nightclub and the Fort Hood shootings, to mention just few prominent examples. The net effect reduced American deaths to 165 and injuries to 160.
We compared domestic mass shootings between the Crime Prevention Research Center table and the Mother Jones database.
That comparison showed that the Center included some events that were not in the Mother Jones list, and vice versa. Counting only those events where there were at least four victims killed, the net change was not large – an additional 17 deaths and 17 injuries based on the Mother Jones figures.
Counting only non-terrorism events, the numbers appear quite different from the picture Loesch painted.
On a non-terrorism basis, both deaths and injuries are about 40 times higher in the United States than in France.
Loesch said that in one year, mass public shootings caused more deaths and injuries in France than in the United States throughout the entire Obama administration. Loesch failed to mention that the year she had in mind was 2015, the bloodiest France has seen at the hands of terrorists.
So the stat relies on extreme cherry-picking (by Loesch, not the underlying report behind her talking point).
Criminologists and terrorism experts gave several reasons why the differences between mass shootings and terrorism matter, and those differences are enshrined in American law and policy.
Separating out the terrorism casualties in both countries, the numbers show that mass shootings during the Obama years caused about 40 times more deaths and injuries than in France in 2015.
We rate this claim Mostly False.