Does the United States Have the Most Mass Shootings (2)?
Lankford’s Credibility Challenged
Given the publicity given to the Lankford study it was certain that attempts to review and replicate the results would be made. However, from the beginning of this coverage in 2016 to well into 2019 Dr. Lankford absolutely refused to release the data upon which his conclusions rested or to engage in substantive dialogue with other researchers. Therefore, anyone attempting to assess his results was completely on their own. And, given Lankford’s striking and highly publicized results, John R. Lott, Jr., President of the Crime Prevention Research Center took on the challenge.
Given the previously discussed uncertainty about terms and definitions combined with Lankford’s refusal to share his definition or data, the Lott study used a widely accepted definition of “mass shooting.” The following definition was used by the Congressional Research Service in their 2015 study titled “Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013,” which is similar to that used by Mother Jones.
… a “mass shooting” could be defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and in one or more locations relatively near one another.
Using this definition and a comprehensive review of foreign news sources (including non-English language sources), the Lott study came to a contradictory conclusion, that being (emphasis added):
Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years.
Coding these events sometimes involves subjectivity. But even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, his 31 percent estimate of the US’s share of world mass public shooters is cut by over 95 percent. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.
Lankford Finally Responds
After almost three years of stonewalling by this public academic, Lankford finally respond to his critics and released his data in March of 2019. He did so by publishing a paper titled “Confirmation That the United States Has Six Times Its Global Share of Public Mass Shooters, Courtesy of Lott and Moody’s Data.” Though Lankford spun this paper as a devastating rebuttal of Lott’s work, in reality it amounted to an admission of professional malpractice (if not worse).
It turns out that Lankford had, without disclosure, limited his study to include only mass shooters who “acted alone.” As was discussed in the previous post, the only definition that assumes a single perpetrator is that for an “active shooter,” and even there the FBI had extended it to include multiple shooters. Even more devastating to Lankford’s position is the fact that he led his original paper using the 1999 Columbine attack which had two shooters.
One is also left to wonder why, if Lankford had such an easily available “devastating” riposte to Lott’s work, he waited so ling to respond. The most likely answer is that Lankford had pulled a definitional trick in order to place the United States in a bad light. For, by supposedly limiting (though he was not consistent, see above Columbine example) his study to lone active shooters Lankford was able to manufacture a statistic that appeared to show the United States to be a “mass shooter” negative outlier.
In order to better appreciate the gravity of this apparent deception, ask yourself if you would rather go to a nation that had 1.57 mass shooter attacks per 100,000 people (Northern Mariana Islands) or 0.015 (the United States)? Would you really care if you were murdered in an event with only one person doing the mass shooting? Of course not!
It is for this reason that Lankford most likely refused to explain his definitions, share details of his methodology or publish his data for almost three years. Only when the pressure to explain himself became overwhelming did he finally come clean; and then in a manner that attempted to hide his malpractice behind a fog of accusations.
Lankford’s Open Admission of Bias
Lankford in his original paper made it absolutely clear that he was a deeply biased source. Following is the first paragraph from his original paper (emphasis added, see end of post for information on H. Rap Brown).
Are public mass shooters predominantly an American problem? For years, people have wondered whether the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence. Political activist H. Rap Brown once claimed that “Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie” (Lehman, 2014). Similarly, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Richard Hofstadter (1970b) concluded that the most notable thing “about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast with our pretensions to singular national virtue” (p. 7). Although United States history includes the killing of indigenous people, a revolutionary war, a civil war, many foreign wars, slavery, race riots, domestic terrorism, and high rates of homicide, perhaps no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings.
This appears to be the work of a man on a mission to denigrate and discredit the United States. I have read hundreds of research papers in my lifetime. No researcher who desired to maintain a posture of disinterested inquiry would ever start a paper in this manner. However, if your goal were to catch the eye of like-minded politicians and media organizations then this is an excellent opening paragraph.
Thus, this situation appears to be a glaring example of how a supposedly disinterested academic can distort research to support a predetermined outcome due to their personal bias.
Rejecting the prosecution’s call for a death sentence, a jury sentenced the former ’60s radical known as H. Rap Brown to life in prison for killing a sheriff’s deputy in a shootout two years ago.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding Wednesday to spare the life of the Muslim cleric now called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He will not have a chance at parole.
So, a supposedly disinterested, public spirited criminology professor quoted a convicted murderer and Black Panther Party member as a credible source on the nature of violence in the United States. This would be amazing had I not lived through the past ten or so years.