Somehow “epistemic closure” ran its course as a thing people talked about, even though we now live full-time under a president whose every decision about how to run or not-run the country is based on factual claims and beliefs that are generated in a closed loop between his brain and Fox News broadcasts. Maybe it just became too obvious a situation to be worth observing and remarking on. No matter what happens, or what anyone says, a right-wing commentary industry stands ready to tell its audience that its beliefs have been confirmed.
Over this past weekend, the New York Times had put together a package of infographics to illustrate the accumulating carnage of random school shootings—”a decades-long series of violent episodes that have shocked the nation and traumatized generations of students.” Or, as Breitbart described it, in the headline of a commentary piece written from inside its hermetically sealed ideological habitat, “NYTimes Admits: Only 111 School Shooting Incidents Recorded Since 1970.”
It was the view from Hell, a maximally nihilistic treatment of murder, in which the Times‘ narrow and scrupulous methodology—restricting itself to the FBI definition of an “active-shooter scenario,” which applies only to cases where “the assailants planned their attacks and fired indiscriminately”—became a weapon for Breitbart to use against other sources that count a greater number of shootings.
The Breitbart writer, gun advocate AWR Hawkins, argued that the Times tally of 111 premeditated random mass shootings in schools—only 95 of which had caused injury of death—debunked the “inflated numbers” used by “other fake news outlets”:
Contrast this with CNN, who claims 15 school shootings in 2019 alone, one of which was a pellet gun incident, another a nighttime drug deal gone wrong in a school parking lot, and yet another was an accidental discharge.
If you don’t count guns accidentally being fired, guns are really nothing to worry about. People who worry about an incident where a gun is fired by accident are just trying to make you worry about guns.
Hawkins went on:
Everytown claimed 100 school shootings had occurred between the December 14, 2012, attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School and December 9, 2014. They listed the 100 incidents and a quick perusal of them found that one was a non-school related function in which a person was grazed by a bullet. Other incidents included the accidental discharge of a legally possessed firearm and a so-called shooting at Tennessee State University that the school’s police force could not confirm ever happened.
Aside from disputing the Tennessee State incident, Hawkins was not denying that guns had been fired. It was just a matter of when they were fired, or whether they were fired on purpose, or how directly the bullet had hit the person who was hit by a bullet. If you only get a graze wound, is it really fair to say someone shot you?
The Times had left out that whole set of dangerous incidents, as well as all the “episodes that fit more typical patterns of gun violence such as targeted attacks, gang shootings and suicides”—not because they didn’t happen, but because it was focused solely on “active-shooter” incidents, which were “rare relative to the larger universe of gun violence at schools.” On those terms, the dots for victims or boxes for number of shootings grew more numerous as the charts advanced through time.
While Breitbart relayed the news of “only 111 incidents” (and only 95 times those incidents involved a bullet hitting at least one person), the Times had counted up something else, the number of people—children, teachers, staff—killed or wounded:
A total of 202 people were killed in these attacks and 454 were injured, including the shooters. In 16 cases, shots were fired but no one was injured.
Last year was particularly violent: 29 people were killed and 48 were injured in three shootings in Parkland, Fla.; Sante Fe, Tex.; and Benton, Ky.
In the world Breitbart has constructed for its readers, where guns are threatened by children, that was something to gloat over.