Fitting Definitions to the Narrative

The shooting in Florida is the 18th school shooting in 2018! Or not. It turns out that the statistic that is being mindless regurgitated by much of the Internet is, like most such mindless regurgitations, malarkey. The statistic, not surprisingly, originates from Everytown for Gun Safety, which is an organization known for massaging definitions to fit its narrative:

Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counts 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.”

To borrow a phrase popularized by Mark Twain, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The beauty of analyzing numbers is that you can whatever result you want if you use the proper definitions. If, for example, you want to maximize the number of school shootings in the United States, you merely need to define a school shooting as any incident where a firearm was discharged on school grounds. It doesn’t matter if the discharge happened at a school that has been closed for seven months or if the discharge was caused by a law enforcer’s lack of awareness of their surroundings.

Details matter but most people ignore them. When they see a headline that confirms their bias, they post it, usually without bothering to read the cited source. This is why most discourse is pointless. Facts aren’t being debated, confirmation bias is.