1) In his address to the nation after the Charleston attack, Obama claimed: “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”
Senator Harry Reid made a similar statement on June 23rd: “The United States is the only advanced country where this type of mass violence occurs. Let’s do something. We can expand, for example, background checks. … We should support not giving guns to people who are mentally ill and felons.”
This claim is simply not true. Mass public shootings – defined as four or more people killed, and not in the course of committing another crime, and not involving struggles over sovereignty. The focus on excluding shootings that do not involve other crimes (e.g., gang fights or robberies) has been used from the original research by Lott and Landes to more recently the FBI) from 2009 to the Charleston massacre (this matches the starting period for another recent study we did on US shootings and we chose that because that was the starting point that Bloomberg’s group had picked). The cases were complied doing a news search. The starting year was picked simply because it match a report the time frame from a recent Bloomberg report and when we evaluated that report it was the last year we looked at Mass Public Shootings in the US starting in 2009.
Some people have defended President Obama’s statement by pointing to the word “frequency.” But, even if one puts it in terms of frequency, the president’s statement is still false, with the US ranking 9th compared to European countries.
The CPRC has also collected data on the worst mass public shootings, those cases where at least 15 people were killed in the attack.
There were 16 cases where at least 15 people were killed. Out of those cases, four were in the United States, two in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
But the U.S. has a population four times greater than Germany’s and five times the U.K.’s, so on a per-capita basis the U.S. ranks low in comparison — actually, those two countries would have had a frequency of attacks 1.96 (Germany) and 2.46 (UK) times higher.
Small countries such as Norway, Israel and Australia may have only one major attack each, one-fourth of what the U.S. has suffered, but the US population is vastly greater. If they suffered attacks at a rate adjusted for their population, Norway, Israel and Australia would have had attacks that were respectively 16, 11, and 3 times greater than the US.
There is also the issue of what President Obama meant by “mass violence.” If you include bombings, many countries face many more bombings than the US does. Take just the bombing cases in Russia. Russia had few mass public shootings, but it suffered from numerous bomb attacks, with 1.31 mass bombing murders per million people
Regarding worldwide terrorism rates, the US State Department has these number for 2007 to 2011.
2) Last Friday, Obama said: “If congress had passed some common sense gun reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom. Reforms that 90% of the American people supported, we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most, we don’t know if it would have prevented what would have happened in Charleston, but we might still have some more Americans with us.”
— There is no evidence that 90% of Americans supported the reforms that Obama was pushing. It is true that 80% to 90% of Americans say that they support background checks on “all gun buyers” (see also here and here), but that is not the same as saying that they supported universal background checks and it is not the same thing as them saying that they supported the law that Obama wanted. When asked this question people may be thinking of guns being purchased at a store and possibly a gun show, but it isn’t at all clear that they are talking about a transfer between friends (either a gift or a sale) and it is very doubtful that they are referring to transfers between family members. Surveys that specifically address the background check bill before the Senate in 2013 do not show overwhelming support. The most support that I can find for such a bill was in Washington State where initiative 594 was passed with 59% support, not 90%, and it had spending that out did the initiative’s opponents by about 33-to-1.
— None of the laws that Obama has put forward would have had any impact on either Newtown or Charleston. The Charleston killer apparently did pass a background check, and, in any case, he obtained his gun by stealing it from his Mom.
On Monday, June 22nd, President Obama made similar comments and also added: “And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic commonsense gun safety laws that, by the way, the majority of gun owners support.” This claim has the same problem that Obama’s other statement has.
3) Here is another claim by Obama from last Friday: “You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth.”
Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post has this useful discussion on an earlier similar claim by Obama.
The best proxy for “industrialized countries” is the membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. There are currently 34 countries in the OECD, but the agency also includes Brazil and Russia in its statistical data. (The two countries have been negotiating for membership but talks have been suspended with Russia because of the Crimea crisis.)
The OECD says the average homicide rate among the 36 countries is 4.1 per 100,000 people.
According to the 2014 data, at the top of the list is Brazil, with a homicide rate 25.5, or six times the average. Next on the list is Mexico, with a homicide rate of 23.4, followed by Russia at 12.8.
Then comes a tie for fourth place—Chile and the United States both have a homicide rate of 5.2. Estonia follows close behind with a homicide rate of 4.7. . . .
The bigger question is the one of causation that President Obama keeps pushing and the evidence on that can be found here and here. His claim on that is also clearly wrong.
UPDATE: Politifact has discussion on fatality rates from mass public shootings, where they rank the US as the fourth highest country. Their analysis looks at data from 2000 to 2014, but it is clear that their analysis is flawed. They have a much broader definition of these attacks where they included cases where no one was killed. Still they are missing a large number of cases in foreign countries, even when one is looking cases where 4 or more people were killed.
For example for France, they claim that from 2000 to 2014 there is only one such shooting and eight people were killed in that case. They missed at least 16 deaths in just cases where four or more people have been killed.
Tours, France, Oct. 29, 2001: Four people were killed and ten wounded when a French railway worker started shooting at a busy intersection
Nanterre, France, March 27, 2002: 8 deaths, 19 injured Gunman opened fire at a town council meeting
Toulouse, France, March 19, 2012: Four shot dead at Jewish school in France
There are also other deaths that met their criteria, but I would not normally collect
Toulouse, France, March 15, 2012: Two French soldiers killed and one critically injured, other minor injuries in drive-by street shooting
Tuusula, Finland, Nov. 7, 2007: Seven students and the principal killed at a high school
Kauhajoki, Finland, Sept. 23, 2008: Ten people shot to death at a college
Espoo, Finland, Dec. 31, 2009: five people shot to death at a mall
Erfurt, Germany, April 26, 2002: A former student killed 17, one non-fatal injury at a secondary school.
FREISING, Germany, Feb. 19, 2002: Four people are dead
Winnenden, Germany, March 11, 2009: 15 deaths, 9 wounded
See also here and here.
UPDATE: Politifact references an email that John Lott sent them about their claim that Obama’s claims on mass public shootings were “mostly false.”