Media Stokes Fear of Mass Shootings With Misleading Info

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Have you ever read something and saw so much stupidity, misdirection, misinformation and out-and-out lies you don’t even know where to begin?

If not, welcome to a piece from Newsweek’s Julia Marnin. 

Let’s start with the headline:

Mass Shootings Sometimes Occur Close Together, But The Reason Why Remains A Mystery

We’ll ignore for now, her lede (yes that’s spelled right, means the first paragraph) — in which she repeats the canard that “gun violence is a public health issue” — but after a stating that we don’t know why mass shootings sometimes come in a cluster, she contradicts herself almost immediately — after using the highly-partisan Gun Violence Archive metric to claim there have been 100 mass shootings so far this year (yeah, there really IS that much stupidity just in the first two paragraphs) — by doing perhaps the only smart thing in the entire article: talking to a shrink.

“In the world of psychology, we have very few phenomena that are due to one thing or one idea. It’s really always a recipe with several ingredients,” psychologist and Temple University professor Frank Farley told Newsweek, who is also a past president of the American Psychological Association (APA), in regards to the prevalence of mass shootings.

No kidding. 

When I was a newspaper editor, training young journalists on a regular basis (and I suspect Julia would have benefited from being in my newsroom for a while) I had two major rules, Pat’s Rules, which my reporters got tired of hearing, but all remember:

Pat’s Rule No. 1: Everything is Always More Complicated. Yes, Even That.

Pat’s Rule No. 2: Everyone Always Has An Agenda.

Both apply here.

But she then notes that a 2015 study “Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings,” written by data scientists from Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University used a mathematical model to see if “contagion” was evident in mass shootings.

The conclusion was — well, yes.

File this one under “Hey, no kidding, huh?”

Anyone with a brain realizes that when we go wall-to-wall with coverage of these things — making sure the shooter’s name and face are all over the internet and airwaves for two weeks. Then there are hundreds of articles thrown at the wall designed to scare the living hell out of people just to see what will stick. Sort of like the one we’re discussing.

The research acknowledged that this contagious effect could be potentially due to widespread media coverage of mass killings and school shootings.

No kidding. 

It’s not simply limited to mass shootings, prominent suicides often provoke a waves of suicides — this is a well-known phenomenon, by the way, and is why when a teenager commits suicide the schools carpet-bomb the student body with counselors and resources. They don’t want a wave of this crap.

Of course, then our friend the shrink, decides to tell us that mental illness isn’t a factor in mass shootings — saying that the mentally-ill tend to commit very few mass shootings.

When mental health or illness is an alleged factor for a mass shooting, Farley said that standard approaches to mental health, such as the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), are important to consider.

“I don’t know of any mass shooters or serial killers who were studied as part of developing the DSM-5 diagnostic system. They’re just not there,” he said. “If you generalize from our standard diagnostic system in psychology and psychiatry to a mass shooter, you’re going away beyond the data in hand. They are way beyond the basis for a diagnostic system.”

Ok, so, you know, the fact that the bastard was obviously crazy, doesn’t mean he was — you know — crazy.

Farley then goes on to speculate, that the reason we have so horribly many of these things is “because, guns.”

Farley mentioned another avenue of psychological theory known as the controversial weapons effect, “the idea that the mere presence of a weapon potentiates aggressiveness,” he said.

This idea ties into another key factor he mentioned outside the realm of psychology to understand mass shootings — is easy access and ownership of guns in the U.S.

Which, of course, is the point, if we just got rid of those icky guns, if we’d just be sheep, this stuff wouldn’t happen.

Which brings us back to the Gun Violence Archive — so widely used by “journalists” — and their methodology.

GVA defines a “mass shooting” as four fatal or nonfatal injuries (excluding the shooter) which occur anywhere for any reason. This lumps in drive-byes, gang fights, and the occasional domestic incident with the Boulder and Atlanta shootings.

That’s a useful metric — if you want to make mass shootings seem far more prevalent than they actually are.

Mother Jones (of all places) actually has a far more useful metric, which is that to be counted the incident needs three or more fatalities (excluding the shooter) must happen in public and must be indiscriminate — meaning it excludes armed robberies, gang or domestic violence, etc.

According to a 2018 RAND study — using those metrics — in 2015, GVA claims there were 332 mass shootings in the us. Using the more restrictive — and more accurate — Mother Jones criteria there were … seven.

Folks, this is nothing but fear mongering using statistics to lie.

Mass shootings of the sort we’re discussing are vanishingly rare — which is why they’re reported on, note; no one reports on the millions of flights a day that land safely, just the ones that don’t — but it’s useful to those who would control you to pretend it’s not so. A little dose of reality

In 2018 there were 39,740 deaths in which being shot was the proximate cause. Sixty-one percent of those were suicide, 35.1% were homicides, and data from 1982-2018 compiled from CDC and Mother Jones show 0.2% of deaths by firearm were public mass shootings.

You are, generally speaking, safe. Your kids are, generally speaking, safe at school.

Contrary to Farley’s bloviating, we need to focus on making our schools and public places safe from random nuts looking for fame, not demonizing inanimate objects or law-abiding citizens.

 

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Apr 15, 2021 2:30 PM ET