High Five: After Florida school shooting, gun-related fact checks dominate

A suburban Milwaukee high school student spoke at a news conference to promote participation in nationwide school demonstrations in response to the Florida school shooting on Feb. 14, 2018 that left 17 people dead. (C.T. Kruger/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
A suburban Milwaukee high school student spoke at a news conference to promote participation in nationwide school demonstrations in response to the Florida school shooting on Feb. 14, 2018 that left 17 people dead. (C.T. Kruger/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead, fact checks related to guns were our most clicked during February 2018.

But there was also a surprise in our monthly High Five: The Wisconsin Supreme Court race. An article rounding up the three fact checks we had done ahead of the primary election garnered the second-highest number of page views.

Here’s the rundown of our five most-clicked items during the month.

1. 18 school shootings in ‘18? Not really

The claim: "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.

On the day of the school shooting, Feb. 14, 2018, that claim was made by TV journalist and author Jeff Greenfield, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate.

By one count widely cited in the news media, there had been 18 incidents in which shots were fired inside or outside of a school or university building in the United States to that point in 2018.  But only three involved a mass shooting. And the count included 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 told us there is no way to know how many school shootings -- using the definition Greenfield relied on -- have occurred over the past 20 years.

2. Supreme Court race

The article: Fact checking the Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates

We were pleasantly surprised to see how much attention was being paid to three candidates in a primary election race in late-February. Expect more fact checks on the two candidates who emerged from the primary, judges Rebecca Dallet and Michael Screnock. They square off on April 3, 2018.

3. Many guns, but more people

The claim: "There are more guns in this country than there are people."

Our rating: Half True.

Kevin Nicholson, one of two Republicans running for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., made the statement in connection with the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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.

4. Assault rifles banned?

The claim: "Assault rifles already are banned."

Our rating: Mostly False.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., made the statement the day after a gunman killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016. It got new attention after the Parkland shooting.

Some, including Johnson, contend that only weapons that are automatic — firing continuously when the trigger is held down are assault weapons — are assault weapons. Those are essentially prohibited by federal laws. But that definition is narrow, and Johnson’s claim gave a misleading impression of a comprehensive ban.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others widely refer to many semiautomatic weapons like the rifle used in Orlando and other mass shootings — which reload automatically but fire only once each time the trigger is depressed — as assault weapons. Those are not banned by federal law.

5. Sharpton at Obama’s White House

The claim: "The past president (Barack Obama) brought Al Sharpton into the White House something like 80 times."

Our rating: True.

The statement was made by U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis. Our analysis of visitor logs through September 2016 showed 118 White House visits by the minister and political activist.