Monday, January 29, 2018

Gun-Control Activists’ Misleading School Shooting Count, Includes Window Broken by BB Gun

Many in the media have pushed a gun-control group's count of school shootings in the aftermath of Tuesday's shooting at Marshall County High School that left 2 dead and 18 injured.

That count, created by Everytown for Gun Safety, claims there have been 11 school shootings thus far in 2018. However, nearly all of the incidents included alongside the Marshall County shooting bear little or no resemblance to that shooting or other well-publicized school shootings, like those at Sandy Hook Elementary or Columbine High School. None of the other events included in the gun-control group's count feature more than one injury, most featured no injuries at all, and one involved a BB gun being shot at a school bus window.

In its threat assessment on school shooters, developed in the wake of the Columbine shooting, the FBI sought to answer "why would a student bring a weapon to school and without any explicable reason open fire on fellow students and teachers?" Despite its clear focus on violence committed against students and faculty during school events, the assessment did not provide an official definition for what a school shooter or a school shooting is.

Everytown for Gun Safety uses its own definition based on what it said is "expert advice and common sense," which the gun-control group claims is "straightforward, fair, and comprehensive." The group said it counts "any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds."

This broad definition places two separate suicides, a January 9 incident where a man shot a BB gun at a bus window resulting in no injuries; a January 10 incident where a student in a criminal justice club accidentally shot a peace officer's real gun at a target on a classroom wall instead of a training gun resulting in no injuries; a January 9 incident where gun shots were fired from somewhere outside of Cal State San Bernardino, which struck a building on campus without injuries; and other incidents next to the murder of a Winston-Salem State University student at a nightclub on the Wake Forest University campus, the January 22 shooting of a 15-year-old at a Dallas-area high school, and Tuesday's Marshall County High School shooting which left 2 dead and 18 others injured.

In its explanation of its count, Everytown includes an open call for new gun-control measures as a result of the number of school shootings it claims occur each year in the United States.

"How many more before our leaders pass common-sense laws to prevent gun violence and save lives," the group asks in its methodology explanation. "Communities all over the country live in fear of gun violence. That's unacceptable. We should feel secure in sending our children to school—comforted by the knowledge that they're safe."

The group claims to have identified 283 school shootings since 2013 using its methodology.

Reporters from outlets like The New York Times, NPR, CNN, Politico, The Huffington Post, and other major media have unquestioningly forwarded the activists' count on Twitter or in pieces for their publications. Peter Alexander of NBC News used the count without revealing who complied it, their political leanings, or any caution over their methodology when questioning Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House press briefing on Wednesday.

Many major media outlets have also unquestioningly pushed dubious statistics from gun-control groups in regards to mass shootings. A June 2017 Free Beacon analysis found only 8 of the 154 shootings cited by gun-control activists and major media outlets as mass shootings actually meet the FBI definition of mass murder.

The media's amplification of misleading school shooting counts may be part of the reason a 2017 survey found most parents greatly overestimate the likelihood of a school shooting at their child's school. Thirty-six percent of parents thought it was "highly likely" their local high school would experience a gun incident within the next three years. Only 8.6 percent of the parents, however, said they actually knew of a firearm incident at their local school sometime in the last five years.


Where free speech should be promoted, free speech is under attack

Free speech is under attack at college campuses across the country.  The problem is not limited to a few colleges barring radical speakers to avoid a riot.  Universities large and small, public and private, are restricting students’ and professors’ speech or enabling others to silence speech with which they disagree.

These restrictions take a variety of forms.  For example, speech codes at many colleges ban speech that is “offensive,” a subjective standard that allows college administrators to arbitrarily ban speech they find disagreeable. For example, Georgia Gwinnett College stopped a student from speaking about his religious faith because it “disturbed the comfort of persons” – even after he had gotten a permit from the school to speak.

Other schools claim they allow free speech but impose so many rules and procedures that it is almost impossible for speakers to reach an audience. Pierce College in Los Angeles, for example, limited students’ “free speech” to a space the size of a couple parking spots and required a permit to speak even there.  At a community college in Michigan, a student was arrested and jailed for handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution because they didn’t have a permit.

Even where they don’t limit speech directly, schools’ actions often enable students to silence others’ speech through shouting, threats of violence, or actual violence.

Sometimes schools fail to prevent students from intimidating and even attacking speakers, as happened at Middlebury College, where student protesters violently shut down a debate and physically assaulted one of the school’s own professors.   In other cases, schools’ policies effectively encourage this behavior by imposing special limitations on speakers they deem controversial.

A new policy at Berkeley, for example, imposes a curfew, security measures, and location restrictions for events that administrators decide are likely to “interfer[e] with other campus functions or activities.”  It doesn’t require much creativity to turn this policy into a heckler’s veto.  If you disagree with a speaker about to visit campus, simply declare his views offensive and threaten to riot, and the speaker will be sidelined.

The net result of these policies has been a narrowing of the views expressed on campuses and therefore the range of views students hear.   The heart of a university education used to be exposure to a wide range of ideas and the opportunity to debate their merits in order to inform one’s own positions and learn to articulate them persuasively.  This has apparently taken a backseat to students’ desire to be comfortable and affirmed.  University administrators, faculty, and students – not to mention the parents and taxpayers who are footing the bill – should be concerned that the quality of higher education is diminished by this change.

And everyone should be concerned about threats to free speech, regardless of their political beliefs. It should not give anyone comfort that she disagrees with the speech that is being silenced at the moment. Viewpoints that are mainstream now may quickly become minority views, and vice versa, as has happened repeatedly throughout history.  That is why protecting even unpopular speech in the short run benefits everyone in the long run.

When public universities restrict speech, it has constitutional implications as well.  The First Amendment prevents government institutions from imposing speech restraints such as arduous permitting restrictions or arbitrary curfews, particularly if the school discriminates against certain viewpoints.  Yet this is precisely what many university speech policies do.

The U.S. Department of Justice is not standing on the sidelines while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights – we are backing free speech lawsuits against universities that violate the First Amendment.  Thursday, we are filing a brief supporting a group of Berkeley University students who allege that the University’s policy imposing stricter rules on controversial speakers violates the First Amendment.  This is the third suit in which we have filed such a brief, and it will not be the last.

Defending the fundamental constitutional rights of all Americans is a core part of the Department’s mission, and defending free speech rights is particularly important.  Free speech is not only a fundamental right, but, as James Madison said, the “effectual guardian of every other right.”  Free speech enables citizens to advocate for all their other civil rights and is the single most powerful bulwark against government tyranny. This is perhaps why our Founders protected it in the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights.  It is also why the Department of Justice is working so hard to protect it - free speech is too important for the Department of Justice not to speak on its behalf. 


Mathematics educator recognized

A contribution to Australia from China

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) congratulates Eddie Woo, its members and supporters of the mathematical sciences community on their inclusion in the 2018 Australia Day Honours.

Professor Prince said it was gratifying to see members of the mathematical community acknowledged in this way.

“Policy shapers, innovators and role-models, these are individuals whose passion and leadership are causing ripples of change across the Australian mathematical pipeline,” he said.

Wootube founder and Head of Maths at Cherrybrook Technology High School, Eddie Woo, received the 2018 Australian Local Hero Award for his application of modern technology approaches in the classroom. The 2016 AMSI Choose Maths Excellence Award winner also delivered this year’s NSW Australia Day address.

Perhaps one of Australia’s most famous mathematics teachers, Woo is a true pioneer whose creativity and passion in the classroom has transformed student engagement and achievement. With over 160,000 followers, the impact of his work is felt globally.

“An outstanding educator and mathematics advocate, Eddie has made an indelible impact on Australian mathematics and is richly deserving of this recognition and the platform it provides to further their work,” he said.

Media release from

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