Politics

The Markswoman Misses

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch loves to criticize the media. Yet she’s just as guilty of the same offense.

Dana Loesch speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on Feb. 22.
Dana Loesch speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on Feb. 22.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This piece was adapted from a Spiel on The Gist. It has been edited for clarity.

Dana Loesch, National Rifle Association spokeswoman, is kind of a cross between Kellyanne Conway and an Uzi, with cooler glasses. She has physical beauty on her side. She is charismatic. She is capable of unleashing a rhetorical fusillade. But like the Uzi and Kellyanne, she spews stats and arguments with abandon and inaccuracy.

While on ABC’s This Week, Loesch discussed mass shootings and laid down some suppressive fire in her verbal battle with George Stephanopoulos. “France had a higher casualty rate in one year than the entire two administrations of Barack Obama, and they’re a fifth of our population,” she said. This assertion of hers went by so quickly that Stephanopoulos couldn’t check it.

In fact, if you define mass shootings as four or more dead per shooting, France in 2015 had 150 deaths, while in the United States during the years she cited, there were 264 deaths. So what is she talking about? Well, she did say casualties, not deaths. I do think most people hear the word casualties, they think deaths, but it means dead or injured. If you include all the injured in 2015 in France, you do have more dead and injured from mass shootings than during the Obama era.

But it’s because of one thing: the Bataclan theater assault. That was the act of international terrorism, which used guns, but it wasn’t exactly relevant to the debate of civilian access to firearms. You take out that one gigantic outlier terrorist attack in the time frame that Loesch mentioned, and you have four dead in France to 160 dead in the U.S. But a singular atypical incident is a horrible rebuttal to George Stephanopoulos’ premise, which was that no country in the world has these attacks with the frequency or the intensity of the United States. So that assertion was full of flaws, but Loesch did speak rapidly and confidently. She seemed to answer the questions Stephanopoulos was asking. I bet the NRA was proud of its spokeswoman at that moment.

I was wondering why she would cite that cherry-picked figure, which wasn’t too relevant for what he was asking. I found that the original assertion was created and spread by the Crime Prevention Research Center, whose president and founder is John Lott. John Lott has a doctorate in economics. He’s frequently cited by gun enthusiasts for his studies, which back up their worldview. But his studies also can’t be duplicated and are indeed often heavily rebutted by established experts who are affiliated with major universities. Lott wrote a book called More Guns, Less Crime that researchers frequently fault. Why do researchers find fault with his findings? Because they can’t find his findings. Lott has an answer to why the researchers fault him. It was in his next book, The Bias Against Guns.

So who’s right? All the good researchers—in 15 or 30 studies, depending on how you count them—find fewer guns, less crime. In 2015, using stats from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers at Boston’s Children’s Hospital at Harvard found that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus in the states with the least.

In 2013, Boston University’s School of Public Health found that if you control for multiple variables, a 1 percent increase in gun ownership in a state correlates with a 0.9 percent rise in firearm homicides. But still, Lott’s rhetoric animates the pro-NRA crowd, Loesch, and also Ben Shapiro, who said on Tuesday: “This 1-to-1 correlation the left attempts to draw between the number of guns in particular society and the level of murder in a particular society just does not hold. That’s particularly true for rifles.”

Actually, the correlation holds. Gun ownership is indeed a very good correlation for gun deaths, but I’ll let Ben go on:

Gun ownership, owned by a civilian population, generally is not a good proxy for crime rate. Gun ownership rates in places like Vermont are extraordinarily high. Vermont has an extraordinarily low crime rate. The same thing is true in New Hampshire. … Louisiana, there’s a very high gun ownership rate. There’s a very high crime rate. … Most of that crime is not taking place in the boonies. Most of that crime is taking place in the major cities, most of which have actual gun-control regulations on the books.

I looked up the stats. Vermont and New Hampshire do have low crime rates, but Vermont doesn’t have very high gun ownership rates. It is ranked, according to the General Social Survey’s Trends in Gun Ownership in the United States, as the 20th highest state in terms of gun ownership. And New Hampshire actually has low gun ownership rates. It’s ranked 39th.

Louisiana has the highest murder rate in the country and a very high gun ownership rate. The census does define Louisiana as 76 percent urban. In 2016, the state had 554 murders, and 176 of them were in New Orleans, 62 in Baton Rouge, 44 in Shreveport, and 16 in Lafayette. Those are the cities. There are slightly more murders in the urban areas, but there’s more population in the urban areas—three times as much as in the rural areas.

Shapiro went on to say that it “doesn’t even hold in Europe, by the way, where Norway has many more guns per civilian than Britain does, and Britain has twice as bad a murder rate.”

Here are the actual stats. Firearm-related deaths per 1,000: Norway, 1.75; Britain, 0.23. What’s Ben Shapiro talking about? The vast majority of Norwegian gun deaths are suicides: Its gun suicide rate is 10 times that of Britain, but its gun homicide rate is almost double. So more guns, more death.

With everything that you’ve heard so far, you can say, OK, the gun advocates got some stats wrong. That’s definitely a problem. It took me and Gist producers Mary Wilson and Pierre Bienaimé 20 hours to rebut those statements. It took the speakers maybe 45 cumulative seconds to utter them, and it’s taking you several minutes to read this rebuttal. That’s a problem. Rebutting a falsehood is a lot harder than uttering it.

But back to Dana Loesch. She gives this critique of the media, which moved from misinformation to malfeasance. CNN host Alisyn Camerota was giving Loesch a hard time because she made the statement a few days ago that many in the media love mass shootings because they’re good for ratings. Loesch complained to Camerota that the media keep mentioning the perpetrator’s name, and that inspires copycats. I believe that’s true. The media shouldn’t have a total blackout on the perpetrator’s name. You have to, as a matter of journalism, reference the name once or twice early on in the coverage, but doing it excessively, research shows, threatens to create a cult.

So Loesch included that point, which is a grounded critique inside her overall outrageous claim that the media likes mass shootings. However, the media isn’t just CNN and the New York Times. These days, we’re all the media—social media. If you’re Loesch specifically, you have your own nationally syndicated radio show. I listened to The Dana Show on the day when the Republican baseball game was attacked by a gunman who was a Bernie Sanders supporter. Would this fact affect Loesch’s stated preference for the media not constantly saying the name of a shooter? On The Dana Show that day, by our count, Loesch said the name of the shooter 14 times. Because when the story wasn’t one that she wished would go away but one that served her political point—one that she could chew over and point to as a confirmation of her worldview—then she certainly needed everyone to know everything about this deranged individual. She said:

This guy’s a Bernie Sanders supporter. Bernie Sanders’s campaign confirmed that this guy volunteered on their campaign. I’m not blaming all Bernie Sanders supporters. That’s like saying all murderers wear shoes—shoes are bad! But I’m saying that there is a pattern among the far left of violence.

To be fair to Loesch, she did criticize CNN for not just saying the name but said, “You’re still saying the name days after the shootings.” But as Loesch was repeatedly naming the Republican baseball game shooter, she reached back into the past and talked about, by name, Gabby Giffords’ attempted assassin:

Even when Loughner came out … it was proven that he was a leftist. Even when it came out that the Portland stabber was a leftist. … Let’s go ahead and look back and see who’s caused the most bloodshed because I guaran-damn-tee you it’s not going to be the right.

The New York Times recently did a profile of Loesch headlined “The National Rifle Association’s Telegenic Warrior.” Maybe Dana Loesch is also something else: She’s an unabashed hypocrite.

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