Anyone who spent any time on social media or watching news coverage of the tragic school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday saw the claim that 18 school shootings have happened in 2018.
The term “fake news” can mean different things — from straight-up bogus stories published by non-credible sources to news that is in fact true, but partisans dismiss as “fake” simply because they don’t like or agree with it. I use the term here to describe “fake news” in it’s purest form: A story passed off as honest-to-goodness journalism a day ago that most now concede is not true.
Less than an hour later, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted it:
Then gun control advocates everywhere began tweeting, the media reported it as fact, and so on.
The Washington Post gives a good explanation of why the claim is inaccurate:
Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.
Also listed on the organization’s site is an incident from Jan. 20, when at 1 a.m. a man was shot at a sorority event on the campus of Wake Forest University. A week later, as a basketball game was being played at a Michigan high school, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot. No one was injured, and it was past 8 p.m., well after classes had ended for the day, but Everytown still labeled it a school shooting.
Everytown explains on its website that it defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.”
In fact, only three (three too many, no doubt) of the incidents included in the “18” number so widely shared would be tragedies comparable to what most think of as a school shooting.
But why were so many outlets and others eager to accept these numbers as fact? Because if you believe that more gun control is the answer to stopping gun violence, the more gun violence that exists, the better your case for action.
Gun control advocates wanted to believe this.
The desired narrative informs what becomes “fact” more than truthful reporting, so actual fact goes by the wayside. Liberals wanted to demonstrate how bad gun violence is, and to let others know that if you opposed their remedy, you too had blood on your hands. Someone eventually checked the numbers, but few were eager to check them (in fact, not surprisingly, it appeared to be the conservative Washington Examiner that did their homework first).
This kind of fake news is not just a pastime of gun control advocates. Being fast and loose with facts just to tell the story you prefer is not unique to the left.
“The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country,” President Trump said in December. “They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”
Trump has said this many times. That illegal immigration brings with it a violent crime wave, and that Democrats who allegedly invite this through their policies have blood on their hands.
When the president says things like this, I see as many conservatives willing to accept it as the gospel and share it as I did liberals eager to declare “18 school shootings in 2018” on Wednesday and Thursday. They can’t share it fast enough.
Yet, it’s false. Illegal immigrants do not bring “tremendous amounts” of violent crime, relatively speaking. In fact, they commit less crime than the native born population. But if you’re an anti-illegal immigrant hardliner, what good are these facts if they get in the way of your narrative?
There were not 18 school shootings this year, and America’s violent crime problem cannot be fairly laid at the feet of those here illegally.
If either if these statements offend or rub you the wrong way, chances are you believe I’m just “fake news” too.