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Three years ago, which means it was before the mass murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs — but after Sandy Hook Elementary and Fort Hood — a University of Alabama professor sought to answer a chilling public policy question: Do countries other than the U.S. experience anything approaching America’s mayhem at the hands of shooters who randomly slaughter people in public places?

The researcher’s name is Adam Lankford, and his answer was unequivocal. No, it only happens here, he proclaimed in a much-quoted 2016 academic paper. America, he said, stands alone. From 1966 to 2012, he documented 90 mass shootings in the United States. In the rest of the world combined – Lankford said he canvassed 171 other nations – there were 202 mass shooters, meaning that the overwhelming number of nations had, on average, one mass killing.

It also meant that the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, had 31 percent of all the mass shootings.

“This is not a matter of opinion; this is a matter of applying statistical models to data from all these 171 countries,” Lankford said at the time. He explained that he compared national homicide rates, suicide rates, gross domestic product statistics, level of urbanization, and even the balance of men and women in each population. None of these factors proved relevant, he reported, which he said surprised him. Only one variable proved significant, he said: the availability of guns. 

“The difference between us and other countries, [which] explains why we have more of these attackers, was the firearm ownership rate,” he said. “In other words: firearms per capita. We have almost double the firearm ownership rate of any other country.”

This conclusion, which is neither counterintuitive nor surprising, was referenced by President Obama. Lankford’s study was also showcased on the front pages of newspapers here and around the world, trumpeted by online news outlets and broadcast networks, invoked by pundits and politicians, and passed along on social media. It is revived, uncritically, every time there is a new mass shooting.

Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP

On Aug. 26, even as SWAT teams in Jacksonville, Fla., searched for survivors after a video game participant opened fire on other gamers, Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts tweeted, “Gun violence is a uniquely American crisis.”

Obviously, that’s a vast overstatement. Gun violence has never been “uniquely” American. But what about the mass shootings Professor Lankford writes about, the ones law enforcement calls “active shooting” cases as they unfold? Is this America’s singular cross to bear, the price of our Second Amendment? Although that is the dominant story line among gun control advocates, the media, and the Democratic Party, a close reading of Lankford’s report — and new research by a skeptic — suggests that his claims are also vastly exaggerated. Lankford’s key finding, namely that these cases are a rarity in the rest of the world, does not appear to be true.

Not a New Crime

Three years ago, Smithsonian magazine ran an article headlined “The Story of the First Mass Murder in U.S. History.” It was an account of World War II combat veteran Howard Unruh, who in 1949 went on a 20-minute “walk of death,” as one newspaper called it, indiscriminately shooting neighbors in his Camden, N.J., neighborhood with a German Luger. Before his capture, Unruh killed 13 people and wounded three.

It was a shocking tragedy, and the Smithsonian article is riveting. But it wasn’t the first mass murder in U.S. history. Or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. It wasn’t even the only mass shooting in that decade. There were at least two others.

In the 1930s, there were two more mass shootings, which followed a psychotic farmer’s 1927 attack on a Bath, Mich., schoolhouse. Using a rifle and explosives, he took 44 lives, 38 of them students. Andrew Kehoe had wiped out most of the children in an entire town – and exacted a death toll greater than Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary combined.

The first mass killing at an American school predates the existence of the United States. In 1764, a teacher named Enoch Brown was gunned down in his Greencastle, Pa., schoolhouse by Lenape Indians, who then tomahawked 10 children and scalped them.

From 1900 to 1928, African-American gunmen killed 40 people in seven separate incidents – six of them in the South, and the last incident in Chicago. Rampant racism of the day mitigated against widespread news coverage: Either the gunmen were targeting cops in response to police brutality — or the victims themselves were African-American, which apparently limited media interest.

Not all of these early 20th century cases would necessarily be classified as “mass shootings” by the FBI. The standard definition excludes killings done in the commission of another crime, which rules out, for example, the Kansas City Massacre and Chicago’s Valentine’s Day Massacre, famous gangland mass killings in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It probably would not include the weeklong crime wave of Charlie Starkweather, who shot, stabbed, or strangled 11 victims as he robbed his way through the Midwest in 1957-58. And most of Andrew Kehoe’s carnage was done with explosives, not his rifle.

And yet, the Las Vegas shooting of Oct. 1, 2017, the deadliest in U.S. history, was foreshadowed more than a century earlier in small-town Kansas. Holed up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, the Vegas gunman opened fire on patrons at a music concert. On Aug. 13, 1903, 30-year-old Spanish-American War veteran Gilbert Twigg used a .12-gauge shotgun on a crowd at an outdoor concert Winfield, Kan. Twigg killed nine people and wounded many more before turning a revolver on himself.

For more than a century, law enforcement authorities, victims’ families, and the media invariably ask the same question: Why? Why do they do it? The killers, in the cases in which they survive, often wonder that themselves. “I don’t know,” Howard Unruh told a newspaper reporter who telephoned him on a hunch when the killer returned to his apartment for more ammunition. “I can’t answer that yet.”

Death by Stranger

But if mass murder of this type wasn’t unknown in the mid-20th century, it was not at the forefront of the national consciousness. There were no “active shooter” drills in U.S. workplaces, few metal detectors except at airports, and any politician who called for arming elementary school teachers would have been considered deranged. For Americans old enough to remember, searing events in the summer of 1966 were a demarcation point:

Charles Whitman

FLICKR

On Aug. 1 of that year, only two weeks after a psycho named Richard Speck tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses in Chicago, another shocking crime took place in the Texas college town of Austin. University of Texas student Charles Joseph Whitman killed his wife and mother, then carted a footlocker full of weapons and ammo to the observation deck of the university’s famed tower. A former military sniper, Whitman spent the next 90 minutes shooting at those below. By the time he was killed by policemen, 14 were dead and another 30 wounded.

In exacting this toll, wrote Pamela Colloff in the Texas Observer, Whitman “ushered in the notion that any group of people, anywhere — even walking around a university campus on a summer day — could be killed at random by a stranger.” 

In happened again only four months later, this time in Mesa, Ariz., where an 18-year-old narcissist named Robert Benjamin Smith strode into a beauty school and shot everyone there in the head. As gruesome as the scene was, in hindsight the most ominous aspect of the crime was the explanation Smith gave cops: Inspired by Richard Speck and Charles Whitman, he wanted to “make a name” for himself, he said. “I wanted people to know who I was.” 

This would prove to be a recurring nightmare. Wayne Lo, who fatally shot a beloved professor and fellow students – while wounding four other people — at a small Massachusetts college in 1992, and Eric Harris, one of two shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado, both expressed the desire that movies would be made about them. 

The more heinous the crime, the more likely it is to attract media coverage – and thus come to the attention of another malevolent person with murder in mind. Although Francisco Paula Gonzales is rarely named in lists of mass shootings, in 1964 he used a pistol to kill 43 people. A Filipino warehouse worker living in San Francisco warehouse, Gonzales boarded a Pacific Airlines flight in Reno with a .357-Magnum revolver. After a stopover in Stockton, he shot the pilot and co-pilot before turning his gun on himself. The plane crashed, killing everyone aboard. A similar crime happened 23 years later on a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight out of Los Angeles. 

These examples show how compiling data on shooters can be subjective. The agreed-upon definition of an “active shooter” – the phrase is codified in U.S. law – is simply “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” The most prevalent definition of a “mass murder” in this context is four or more victims. This means that Brenda Spencer, the 16-year-old girl who fired on San Diego’s Cleveland Elementary School from her home across the street in 1979, isn’t always listed as a mass shooter because she only killed two people — though she wanted to kill more. 

But the death toll is not irrelevant to shooters’ motives. Criminologists who’ve studied them believe that body counts play a role in their calculations. So does media coverage. In the 1980s, there were 30 known instances of mass shooters. Those included the appalling 1984 shooting at a McDonald’s restaurant in the California border town of San Ysidro and the 1986 massacre of U.S. Postal Service workers in Edmonds, Okla., by a postal employee and former Marine Corps marksman named Patrick Sherrill. In killing 14 and wounding six. Sherrill started a spate of such shootings by mail service employees, giving rise to the self-fulfilling description “going postal.” 

Another trend was taking root, too: ever-higher casualty tolls. When James Oliver Huberty killed 21 people at the San Ysidro McDonald’s, while wounding 20 more, this was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. In January 1989, at another California school named Cleveland Elementary, an angry white drifter killed five children on the playground and wounded 30 others, including a teacher. All the victims were Cambodian or Vietnamese immigrants. 

Law enforcement began looking in earnest for lessons that would help them respond, or perhaps intercede beforehand. No easy answers presented themselves. James Huberty, an angry and frustrated man who heard voices in his head, figured his mental health was deteriorating. But when he called a psychiatric clinic for an appointment, no one even called him back. The next day he said goodbye to his wife and daughter saying, “Society had its chance.” The last thing he told his wife was that he was going hunting – “hunting humans.” She reported this to no one. 

The police response wasn’t much better. Huberty entered the McDonald’s just before 4 p.m. When he immediately started shooting, a patron called 911, but a dispatcher sent police to the wrong McDonald’s, delaying them by 10 minutes. Even then, armed officers were afraid to engage the shooter; they set up a perimeter and waited for SWAT units to arrive. Finally, an hour later, a police sniper killed him. 

After the second Cleveland Elementary school shooting, the focus was not on the police response, but on the shooter’s access to deadly firearms. Patrick Purdy had been arrested for several gun offenses previously, and was known to authorities as a drug user and alcoholic who’d attempted suicide in jail. So why was he allowed to walk into an Oregon gun shop and buy an AK-47? 

Luby’s Memorial

Wikimedia Commons

When the grim record accumulated in San Ysidro was eclipsed in 1991 at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., the other side of the gun control debate rose to the fore. As George Hennard methodically executed diners with two semiautomatic handguns, 32-year-old Suzanna Hupp reflexively reached for the pistol she carried in her purse. But as she later testified, that day she’d left her gun in her car before going into the restaurant, worried that violating Texas’ guns laws might jeopardize her chiropractic license.

“My state has gun control laws,” she explained. “It did not keep Hennard from coming in and killing everybody. What it did do was keep me from protecting my family.”

A Rising Tide of Blood

In the 1980s, there were 30 mass shootings, with 173 deaths. In the 1990s, the number increased to 37, with some 200 fatalities and another 186 wounded, many of them grievously. In the first decade of the new millennium, the number of incidents didn’t appreciably change. There were 33 such shootings, even as they became deadlier — 227 deaths.

It was in the second decade of the new millennium that this kind of killing became more frequent — and more fatal. The place names of the killing fields were etched into our memories: Aurora’s cineplex; Sandy Hook Elementary; Washington Navy Yard; “Mother Emanuel” church; Umpqua Community College; San Bernardino; a Wisconsin Sikh temple; Orlando’s Pulse nightclub; Fort Lauderdale Airport; Rancho Tehama; First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas; Stoneman Douglas High School; Santa Fe High School in Texas; the Las Vegas strip; The Capital newspaper in Annapolis.

Although Washington lawmakers can seem out of touch, this type of crime was not remote for them. In 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously wounded by a deranged gunman who also shot 18 other people, six of them fatally. Six years later, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was shot by a man who sprayed a baseball diamond with gunfire.

As the body count mounted during his tenure in the White House, President Obama spoke out, publicly searching for answers. By the end of his presidency, he seemed nearly at a loss for words. When he did discuss the apparent epidemic of violence, Obama expressed the view that the rest of the civilized world has nothing approaching our track record. On Oct. 1, 2015, following the shootings at Umpqua, Obama went to the James S. Brady Briefing Room in the White House – a room named after a victim of gun violence – and expressed his frustration. “Somehow this has become routine,” he said. “My response here at this podium ends up being routine. … We’ve become numb to this.”

The president added, “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”

It was a sentiment he repeated several times that year, including on Dec. 1, 2015 in Paris. “I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings. This just doesn’t happen in other countries.”

It was an incongruous thing to say in that setting, given that Paris had just experience a mass shooting of its own. Also, a handful of reporters wondered if the president’s larger point was even true – and asked White House press officials about it. In response, they referred journalists to Adam Lankford’s study. Although it was unpublished at the time, he’d been speaking about it publicly and released preliminary drafts of his paper — and it had already received significant press coverage.

White House Photo

Because the president overstated the case, his assertions were examined by Washington Post fact-checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee. One of the few journalists who didn’t take Lankford’s data at face value, Lee thoroughly vetted the topic, and queried Lankford about his findings. He told her that he ran a statistical analysis of the total number of public mass shootings per country from 1966, the year Charles Whitman put this issue into modern consciousness, until 2012 – the year of Aurora, the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, and the slaughter in Newtown, Conn.

But here’s the question: Did Lankford really do that, and if so, how deep did he dig?

Partisan Social Science

Adam Lankford’s paper appeared in the Nov. 2, 2016 edition of a publication called Violence and Victims. Although it professes to be a “peer-reviewed journal,” it’s not clear that his study was subjected to an outside review. Titled “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries,” it follows academic norms, complete with shorthand citations and dense jargon such as “negative binomial regression rates.” Nonetheless, it is not a dry document. Nor does it have a neutral tenor. The paper opens by asking if “the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence.” In the next sentence Lankford quotes H. Rap Brown as saying, “Violence is…as American as cherry pie.”

He’s a curious choice as witness. A 1960s civil rights organizer turned black nationalist, Brown was justice minister of the Black Panther Party, and someone obsessed with guns. While on trial on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on charges of arson and inciting a riot, two of Brown’s friends were blown up in a car on their way to the trial, apparently to dynamite the courthouse, which was bombed the next night. Brown skipped bail, showing up later in New York where he was convicted of armed robbery.

FLICKR

While serving a five-year stretch at Attica state prison, Brown converted to Islam, changing his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. The makeover didn’t diminish his firearms fetish. In 2000, two Georgia sheriff’s deputies, both African-American, went to Al-Amin’s Atlanta home to arrest him on a gun charge. He opened fire with a rifle, wounding them both. After running out of ammo, he retrieved a pistol from his Mercedes-Benz, stood over one of the deputies and killed him with three shots. Convicted by a mostly black jury, he was sentenced to life in prison. Adam Lankford identifies him only as a “political activist.”

But questions of tone are minor compared to those about Lankford’s methodology – and lack of transparency.

The idea of comparing the United States of America to other nations when it comes to “active shooters” was first explored in 2010 by the New York Police Department. It tallied mass shootings in the U.S. going back to 1966, while seeking similar data from other countries during the same time frame. Its primary rationale for expanding its inquiry to foreign countries was to see if anything could be gleaned from international law enforcement’s approach to the problem. The NYPD didn’t pretend to be doing scholarly research, either in 2010 or in its updated 2012 report.

Lankford indicated that he was inspired by this approach, used the same time frame, and the same methods — and he credited the NYPD in his own paper. “Data for this study were drawn first from the New York City Police Department’s Active Shooter report,” he wrote. But that begs the question: How solid are the NYPD statistics?

The answer is that they are incomplete to the point of being completely unreliable, which the NYPD essentially admits in its 2012 report. The department conceded that its hunt for mass shootings merely consisted of doing online searches of publicly available Internet news sources. “The NYPD did not use special-access government sources to compile the cases,” it says. “All information is open-source and publicly available.” It apparently didn’t even access paywall-protected databases such as Lexis-Nexis. The NYPD acknowledged that this method obviously “has a strong sample bias towards recent incidents.”

That’s one big problem with its methodology. There are others. The most obvious is that the department did its search exclusively in English, which means if the shooting was never reported by Western news outlets it might as well not have happened.

In phone calls and emails from RealClearPolitics, Lankford was asked how he supplemented the NYPD methods. He did not answer those queries. Nor has he responded to requests for his raw data, which is missing from his published paper, or to clear up basic questions. One of them is why he lists “shooters” instead of “shootings,” the term most criminologists use when comparing data. This is significant because mass shootings outside the United States often involve multiple triggermen. Also, although Lankford cites 202 shooters globally from 1966 to 2012, these cases aren’t listed in any appendix and he only lists totals for a handful of countries. This means that other scholars can’t replicate his research to test his findings — or point out shootings he overlooked. 

John R. Lott Jr., an economist and gun rights advocate who founded an organization called Crime Prevention Research Center, told RCP that he’s spent two years asking Lankford for his backup material, without success. “It’s strange,” Lott said. “He wouldn’t give out the list he complied, tell you how he found the cases, or where he’s gotten his data.” 

So Lott undertook a study of his own, which was obtained late last month by RCP and is now available online. Titled “How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings: U.S. Rate Is Lower Than Global Average,” it looks at the years 1998 to 2012 – the last 15 years of Lankford’s time frame. 

In it, Lott has some eye-opening statistics. For starters, in the just last 15 years of the 47-year period covered in the NYPD and Lankford reports, Lott found 1,448 mass public shootings — and 3,081 shooters — outside the United States. This means he discovered 15 times as many mass killers as Lankford in less than one-third the time frame. 

It also means that instead of having 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings, the United States has fewer than 3 percent. The key takeaway here is that, with 4.4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has less than its share of mass murderers, a finding that utterly undermines the prevailing narrative. Take the Philippines, for example. It is one of the countries for which Lankford provides statistics. He says it had 18 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. Lott says the Philippines had 52 mass shootings cases from 1998 to 2012 carried out by 120 gunmen. In Russia, Lankford had the total as 15. Lott found 34 in the tighter time frame. In Yemen, it was Lankford 11, Lott 29. 

Filipino mass shooting mourners.

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

In raw numbers, the U.S. still made the Top 10 on Lott’s list, but barely. Leading the pack is India, followed by Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Columbia, Nigeria, and the Philippines leading us. (Sudan has the dubious distinction of coming in 10th.) 

In an interview with RCP, Lott said he’s convinced that he’s undercounting the global cases, probably significantly. The reasons include the following: 

  • In much of the Third World, newspapers’ databases have only been online for a decade or so, meaning it’s difficult to find the older cases.
  • Vast swaths of the world, particularly in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, have never been regularly covered by the news media, meaning that many cases went unreported even in their own country.
  • Government censorship is prevalent in much of the world, and this is the kind of news that gets squelched. In Russia and China, for instance, most of the news media has been owned or controlled by the government. In totalitarian regimes, there are myriad ways to prevent open discussion of gun violence. Lott said he learned of cases in Venezuela where shooting victims’ families have been told that if they talk to the press they won’t get their loved ones’ body returned to them.
  • Even in cases where the government doesn’t forbid contemporaneous coverage of mass shootings, police officials in tourist-dependent locales and other exotic destinations – and even the local media – are reluctant to reveal cases to American researchers, Lott said. The Solomon Islands, for instance, only provided data for five of the 15 years he was looking at, and it came in a single paragraph in a 152-page crime report. It revealed three mass shootings in that five-year period — in a  place with only 600,000 people. Lott was rebuffed when trying to find data for other years.

The appendix in his report runs some 451 pages, which allows other researchers to check his work. It’s a practice the conservative scholar learned painfully. 

Two decades ago, it was Lott who was in the academic crosshairs. He came under blistering criticism for not being able to adequately support a contention made in his 1998 book, “More Guns, Less Crime.” The book’s central thesis is that lawful gun owners prevent vast numbers of assaults and robberies. In the overwhelming percentage of these cases, the law-abiding gun owner merely had to brandish a firearm. Lott’s own survey put this figure at 98 percent. Although only a single sentence in his book, Lott mentioned this statistic frequently in interviews, so when he couldn’t produce the data to back it up, his critics pounced. Lott blamed a 1997 crash of his computer hard drive, an explanation greeted with caustic skepticism among his detractors. It probably shouldn’t have been such a big controversy. For one thing, Lott replicated his study in 2002, finding only a slightly lower percentage – 95 percent – of crimes stopped by brandishing. Second, surveys from Gallup and other pollsters have put this figure as high as 85 percent.

As Lott attracted scrutiny, however, it didn’t help his cause when it was revealed that he had created a fictitious fan, Mary Rosh, to defend himself on social media. “I should not have done it, there is no doubt,” Lott told The Washington Post when the ruse came to light. “But it was a way to get information into the debate.”  

Alternate Realities 

Perhaps public policy about guns is uniquely divisive. It is an issue, after all, that is literally about life and death. Or maybe we just live in particularly partisan times. Whatever the reason, bitter controversies over academic scholarship on guns — and even simple data collection — keep recurring as advocates on one side or the other keep taking shortcuts. The effort to “get information into the debate” translates in practice to fudging the figures. A neutral observer is reminded of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous admonition about being entitled to your own opinion, but not “your own facts.” 

One problem is that many of those studying it, not to mention the journalists writing about it or the politicians talking about it, are the opposite of dispassionate. 

Eighteen years ago, Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles wrote a book claiming that gun ownership in this country at the time the Second Amendment was adopted was rare. Bellesiles claimed to have searched over 1,000 probate records from 1763 to 1790 in was what was then the American frontier in New England and Pennsylvania. He wrote that he found that only 14 percent of American men owned firearms and that fewer than half of those guns were operable. Extrapolating on this point from other data, he wrote in “Arming America” that colonials hunted by trapping not shooting, that early American militiamen barely knew how to shoot, and that the nation’s “gun culture” didn’t develop until after the Civil War. In the mainstream press, his writing received uncritical adulation. This was true in the academy, too, where “Arming America” was awarded Columbia University’s prestigious Bancroft Prize. 

But when Bellesiles couldn’t produce his notes on contested data, cited non-existent probate records, and made assertions at odds with other colonial-era research, Emory launched an investigation into possible academic “misconduct.” It did not go well for the author. Three illustrious U.S. historians found that Bellesiles’ work was incredibly sloppy and in other cases fabricated. “The best that can be said of his work with the probate and militia records is that he is guilty of unprofessional and misleading work,” they wrote. “Every aspect of his work in the probate records is deeply flawed.” 

If that was the “best” that could be said, the worst that could be said – and it was said — was that Bellesiles had committed academic fraud, both in writing the book and defending it when it came under fire. Columbia took the unprecedented step of rescinding the Bancroft award, and Bellesiles resigned from Emory’s faculty. 

In April of this year, which is to say two months after the tragedy at Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., and a month before the Santa Fe High School rampage in Texas, the U.S. Department of Education published a booklet stating that during the 2015-2016 academic year “nearly 240 schools in this country…reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” 

Here was a truly shocking number. It was so high that National Public Radio attempted to contact each one of them. The results? NPR could confirm exactly 11 school shootings. Two-thirds of the schools they called reported definitively that they’d had no such incident. The federal government’s figure is bogus. 

This example underscores the value of verifiable research. In an era of “fake news” and “alternative facts” — not to mention widespread academic fraud — honest debate and prudent public policy decisions can only come from shared access to accurate information. The old saw about academic disputes being so vicious because the stakes are so small does not apply to this topic. Curbing gun rights, to mention one proposed solution, is a high-stakes game. 

Adam Lankford has made that point himself. Although his report identifies gun ownership as the only constant in countries beset with mass shooters, he acknowledges how politically difficult it would be to disarm Americans. In interviews, he stresses another approach: media restraint when covering these cases. Last autumn, Lankford and a colleague wrote an open letter to the Fourth Estate, one signed by 145 academics, suggesting three steps designed to disincentivize future mass murderers: (1) Don’t name the killers; (2) don’t use their photographs; (3) when mass shootings occur, refrain from using the names or likenesses of past perpetrators. 

In pressing for this solution, Lankford expresses the view that recent events have supplied a measure of validation for his research. In 2016, when he released his report, he predicted that mass shootings in this country would become more frequent and deadlier. 

“Some of the predictions that I made were that we would see more fame-seeking shooters — that they would try to kill more victims than anyone else had killed before and that they would try to attack in different ways and different locations because that’s a different way to get attention,” he told one interviewer. “Seeing those predictions fulfilled is, well, it’s terrible. At the same time, it’s confirmation that the assessment of what’s going on here appears accurate.” 

Yet, there is also unintended irony in Lankford’s calls for curbing the coverage of these crimes. It is incomplete news coverage in much of the rest of the world that makes mass murder in those places hard to track and helps explain, in part, how badly he missed the mark when tallying up those cases.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.