Our Research on Errors in the FBI’s Active Shooting Reports given Extensive Coverage in the Washington Post

Feb 1, 2023 | Media Coverage

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has a long discussion about our research on the FBI’s Active Shooting cases. One benefit from Kessler’s piece is that he was actually able to get the Texas State University people to respond to two of the cases that we provided. Dr. Lott has tried numerous times over the years to get responses from the people at Texas State University without any success. In their response to Kessler, the TSU people claim that they don’t include cases involving domestic disputes or instances where a suspect started shooting after being denied entry to a lounge or bar. Yet, at the end of the long quote from Kessler’s article, we list 14 instances where the FBI list does include shooting resulting from domestic disputes and three others that involve people being denied entry to a lounge or bar. Excluding these 17 cases would reduce the FBI’s 252 active shooting cases from 2014 to 2021 by seven percent. Kessler already does make the point about their inconsistencies briefly in his piece.

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The Media Research Center’s News Busters is critical of the Washington Post piece, but we at the CPRC think that Kessler tried hard to be balanced.

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. . . But the FBI reports, though often cited by the news media, have numerous errors and, by the FBI’s own admission, are not necessarily complete or even consistent in how certain criteria are applied. “Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context,” the FBI said when it issued its first report. . . .

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John R. Lott Jr., a gun rights researcher, is skeptical of the FBI data. He has compiled his own tally of “good guy with a gun” incidents that he says the FBI has missed. Including all of Lott’s incidents would significantly change the result — he has a list of more than 100 instances between 2014 and 2021, linked to news reports, when a citizen with a lawful firearm ended an active-shooting situation.

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Toward the end of the Trump administration, Lott, the author of the 2010 book “More Guns, Less Crime,” was a senior adviser for research and statistics at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy. In a paper he wrote for that office, he said the office found many missed cases in the FBI reports, including 20 multiple-victim shootings involving at least two people killed between 2000 and 2013. In the 2018 and 2019 reports, he concluded, the FBI missed seven shootings, including six when a concealed-handgun permit holder stopped the attack.

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“The FBI reports keep excluding cases where shooting attacks have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders,” Lott’s Justice Department report said. He argues that a more complete data set would show that a higher percentage of shootings are stopped in places that do not prevent people from having concealed weapons.

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The FBI brushed aside repeated efforts by The Fact Checker to discuss its reports and the questions raised by Lott. “We have no additional information to provide other than what is provided within the active shooter reports on our website,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

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Of course, Lott has his own bias. He keeps track only of the active-shooter incidents that someone with a weapon has ended. So a list including instances when a person without a firearm ended the shooting could also be higher.

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Errors in the FBI database

Whether a database is expansive or limited often depends on the definitions used to compile the statistics. In assembling active-shooter incidents, the FBI relies on a definition that covers an individual or individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area with firearms.

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“This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face,” the FBI said in its first report. “Shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence — pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public — were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril,” such as an accidental discharge of a firearm or suicides in public areas. The FBI also does not include shootings in homes, but it keeps the focus on public places.

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Shootings that result in homicide are widely reported. But not every active-shooter incident results in deaths, making it difficult to ensure a complete accounting because there is little news coverage. For instance, in 2011, at Deer Creek Middle School in Colorado, a shooter opened fire on eighth-graders leaving for the day, until two teachers tackled the shooter. Two students were wounded but none was killed.

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This incident ended up in the FBI statistics. But a 2015 shooting in Ohio did not. Two people were arguing outside an apartment in a Cincinnati neighborhood when the man pulled a gun and began firing at the woman. The woman’s brother, who had a concealed-carry permit, shot the gunman in the leg. The gunman then ran into his home and came out with a gun in each hand, firing at the woman and her 1-year-old child.

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The FBI told Lott that this was not included because it was a “domestic dispute,” according to his Justice Department paper. Lott notes that the shooting took place on a public street and that multiple people were shot — just like another 2015 incident that was included in the database. In that shooting, police killed the shooter.

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The FBI acknowledged that it has missed some active-shooter incidents. In 2015, a man killed a clerk and a customer at a liquor store in Conyer, Ga., after an argument some hours earlier. The man had returned to the store with a handgun and begun firing. One customer, hailed as a hero by police, returned fire and the shooter fled.

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In an email shared by Lott, an FBI official acknowledged that “the FBI did not come across this incident during its research in 2015, but it does meet the FBI’s active-shooter definition.” The official noted that the active-shooter reports “are limited in scope” and cases will be missed. In any case, the incident has not yet been added to the FBI database.

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Lott also identified how the FBI, in its reports, sometimes misidentifies citizens as security personnel. In 2019, for instance, a man with a shotgun began shooting inside a church in White Settlement, Tex. He killed two parishioners before a church member drew a firearm and killed him. The FBI report inaccurately said “two members of the security team were killed before they had the chance to engage the shooter,” and the incident was not recorded as an example of citizen engagement. As it turned out, 19 or 20 parishioners attending services were carrying concealed weapons at the time of the attack.

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Deciding what to count

While the FBI declined to comment, an official at ALERRT said its database does not factor in how a shooting incident ends.

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“I can confidently say that the event resolution is not an inclusion or exclusion criteria in the discussion,” said M. Hunter Martaindale, research assistant professor at Texas State University. “Events are excluded for a variety of reasons (e.g., gang motivated, targeted or domestic only events, attacks in the commission of another crime, etc.) but none are excluded based on the manner in which they end. We have courses dedicated to civilian response and firmly believe that citizens can play a vital role in ending these tragic events.”

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Looking at some of the incidents that Lott says should be counted, Martaindale indicated why they would not merit inclusion. In 2019, a man opened fire in a dental office in Colonial Heights, Tenn., killing a woman. A patient drew his concealed weapon, shot the gunman and held him at gunpoint until police arrived. “It’s a citizen, a concealed-carry permit holder that saw a threat, eliminated that threat and stood by until law enforcement arrived, and did a really good job,” Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy told reporters.

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It turns out, the gunman shot his wife, who worked there. So this would be considered a domestic dispute, Martaindale said.

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Another incident, in 2014, involved a shooter who opened fire in a strip club in Portland, Ore., hitting three people, including a bouncer who was critically wounded. Another bouncer, with a valid concealed-handgun permit, followed the gunman outside and fatally shot him in the back. But Martaindale said the case sounded like a retaliation murder. The bouncer who was shot had refused entry to the gunman a half-hour earlier, and the gunman returned, masked and armed. The two other people who were shot appeared to have been struck by errant rounds.

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The FBI made a similar observation to Lott in correspondence with him. But Lott says this case is a good example of the FBI’s inconsistency in its reporting. He said the strip club shooting was similar to incidents that the FBI said qualified for inclusion.

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The FBI database includes a 2009 case in which a man was being escorted out of a bar by security when he began firing. The database also included a 2008 case in which a man got into an argument with his supervisor at a plastics plant. He pulled a gun as he was being escorted out of the plant and opened fire, shooting the supervisor and several employees. There is also a 2010 case in which a female employee was suspended and lost her company ID at a Kraft plant — and she retrieved a .357 Magnum from her car and returned to shoot the people with whom she had quarreled. The FBI also lists a 2011 case in which a man fired 70 to 90 rounds into a courthouse, intending to kill the judge who presided over his divorce. . . .

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Glenn Kessler, “What’s more common: A ‘good guy’ without a gun — or with one?,” Washington Post, January 31, 2023.

Regarding the FBI reports excluding domestic disputes, here are fourteen cases that they had resulting from such disputes. The difference is that the one we pointed to involved a civilian defensive gun use.

  • Gold Leaf Nursery (Commerce) 

On July 28, 2003, at 11:40 a.m., Agustin Casarubias-Dominguez, 45, aka Andres Casarrubias, 47, armed with a handgun, began shooting in the Gold Leaf Nursery facility in Boynton Beach, Florida, where his estranged wife and the man he believed to be her boyfriend were employed. Three people, including his estranged wife, were killed; no one was wounded. The shooter was restrained by a citizen while attempting to reload his gun and was taken into custody by police. 

  • Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center (Health Care) 

On March 29, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45, armed with a handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle, began shooting in the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage, North Carolina, where his estranged wife worked. He did not find her. Eight people were killed; three were wounded, including one police officer. The shooter was apprehended after being wounded during an exchange of gunfire with police. 

  • Family Dental Care (Commerce) 

On July 1, 2009, at 10:30 a.m., Jaime Paredes, 30, armed with a rifle, allegedly began shooting in his wife’s place of employment, Family Dental Care office in Simi Valley, California. She had recently filed for divorce. His wife was killed; four were wounded. The shooter was apprehended by police. 

  • Legacy Metrolab (Commerce) 

On November 10, 2009, at 11:49 a.m., Robert Beiser, 39, armed with a handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun, began firing in the Legacy Metrolab in Tualatin, Oregon, his wife’s place of employment. One week earlier, his wife had filed for divorce. His wife was killed; two were wounded. The shooter committed suicide before police arrived. 

  • Yoyito Café (Commerce) 

On June 6, 2010, at 10:00 p.m., Gerardo Regalado, 37, armed with a handgun, began shooting in Yoyito Café in Hialeah, Florida, where his estranged wife was employed. Four people were killed, including his estranged wife; three were wounded. The shooter fled the scene and committed suicide several blocks away. 

  • Salon Meritage (Commerce) 

On October 12, 2011, at 1:20 p.m., Scott Evans Dekraai, 41, armed with three handguns and wearing body armor, began shooting in Salon Meritage, in Seal Beach, California, his ex-wife’s place of employment. Seven people were killed, including his ex-wife; one was wounded. The shooter fled the scene and was later apprehended by police. 

  • Las Dominicanas M&M Hair Salon (Commerce) 

On October 18, 2012, at 11:04 a.m., Bradford Ramon Baumet, 36, armed with a handgun, began shooting in the Las Dominicanas M&M Hair Salon in Casselberry, Florida. The shooter had been served earlier that month with a domestic violence court order involving his ex-girlfriend, who managed the salon. Three people were killed; his ex-girlfriend was wounded. The shooter committed suicide at another location. 

  • Azana Day Salon (Commerce) 

On October 21, 2012, at 11:09 a.m., Radcliffe Franklin Haughton, 45, armed with a handgun, began shooting in the Azana Day Salon in Brookfield, Wisconsin, his estranged wife’s place of employment. Three were killed, including his estranged wife; four were wounded. The shooter committed suicide before police arrived. 

  • Melbourne Square Mall (Commerce) 

On January 17, 2015, at 9:31 a.m., Jose Garcia-Rodriguez, 57, armed with three handguns, began shooting at his wife’s workplace, Scotto Pizza in Melbourne Square Mall in Melbourne, Florida. One person was killed; the shooter’s wife was wounded. The shooter committed suicide before law enforcement arrived. 

Here are more active shootings on the list that started from partners’ place of employment or targeted partners:

  • Amko Trading Store (Commerce) 

On January 9, 2001, at 12:00 p.m., Ki Yung Park, 54, fatally shot his estranged wife at a convenience store they owned in Houston, Texas. Armed with two handguns, he then drove to the nearby Amko Trading Store and continued shooting. Four people were killed; no one was wounded. The shooter committed suicide when police arrived after being flagged down by a citizen. 

  • Multiple Locations in Wellton and Yuma, Arizona (Commerce) 

On June 2, 2011, at approximately 5:00 a.m., an identified male, 73, armed with a handgun, conducted an attack at various locations in Wellton and Yuma, Arizona. The attack began in Wellton, where the shooter wounded one person and killed four others. The shooter then drove to Yuma, where he killed another person in a law office. The shooter targeted his ex-wife, her close friends, and the attorney who represented her in their divorce proceedings. Five people were killed; one person was wounded. The shooter committed suicide at another location. 

  • Syverud Law Ofce and Miller-Meier Limb and Brace, Inc. (Commerce) 

On October 26, 2015, at 1:56 p.m., Robert Lee Mayes, Jr., 40, armed with a handgun, began shooting at his estranged wife’s workplace, Syverud Law Offce in Davenport, Iowa. The shooter then drove to Miller-Meier Limb and Brace, Inc in nearby Bettendorf, where his estranged wife’s father and an acquaintance were employed, and continued shooting. No one was killed; 2 were wounded. The shooter committed suicide after law enforcement arrived. 

  • Marathon Savings Bank and Tlusty, Kennedy & Dirks, S.C. (Commerce) 

On March 22, 2017, at 12:27 p.m., Nengmy Vang, 45, armed with a rife and a handgun, began shooting inside the Marathon Savings Bank in Rothschild, Wisconsin, where his estranged wife was employed. Two bank employees were killed. The shooter then went to the law frm Tlusty, Kennedy & Dirks, S.C. in Schofeld where he shot and killed his estranged wife’s lawyer. The suspect fed to his apartment complex and barricaded himself in the building for several hours before law enforcement offcers engaged him in a shootout. Four people were killed (including one law enforcement offcer); no one was wounded. The shooter was wounded by law enforcement during an exchange of gunfre and died a few days later. 

  • Residence and #us 4top in Sanford, Florida (Open Space)  

On March 27, 2017, at 6:20 a.m., Allen Dion Cashe, 31, armed with a rife, allegedly began firing inside a residence in Sanford, Florida. Law enforcement had responded to two separate domestic dispute calls between the shooter and the woman he was dating prior to the shooting. The shooter returned to the woman’s house and shot her, her two sons, and her father. The shooter then fed the scene and shot two other unrelated people standing near or at a bus stop from his vehicle on a nearby road. Two people were killed; four were wounded. The shooter fed the second scene and was apprehended by law enforcement at a nearby apartment building.

Meanwhile, I have also found the following three active shootings on FBI’s list in which the suspect started shooting after being denied entry to a lounge or bar.

  • 9ine Ultra Lounge (Commerce)  

On January 19, 2020, at 11:30 p.m., an identified male, 29, armed with two handguns, began shooting outside the 9ine Ultra Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri. The subject got into an altercation with other patrons and was refused entry. The subject retrieved a weapon from his vehicle and began shooting at the line of people outside. One person was killed; 16 people were wounded. An armed security guard shot and killed the subject. 

  • Rebar Bar and Lounge (Commerce)  

On June 12, 2020, at approximately 11:30 p.m., an identified male, 37, armed with a rifle, began shooting at patrons outside of Rebar Bar and Lounge in San Antonio, Texas after being denied entry. Eight people were wounded. The shooter was apprehended by law enforcement six days later. 

  • Azuza Hookah Bar and Lounge, Houston, TX (Commerce)  

On June 8, 2021, at approximately 1:45 a.m., an unidentified male, armed with a rifle, began shooting at the Azuza Hookah Bar and Lounge, Houston, Texas, after being denied entry. Five people were wounded. The shooter remains at large. 

Part of the Media Research Center’s News Busters discussion is here.

. . . But Kessler does cite gun rights researcher John R. Lott Jr., who had compiled his own list “of more than 100 instances between 2014 and 2021, linked to news reports, when a citizen with a lawful firearm ended an active-shooting situation.”

But Kessler casts doubt on this too: “Lott has his own bias. He keeps track only of the active-shooter incidents that someone with a weapon has ended. So a list including instances when a person without a firearm ended the shooting could also be higher.” . . .

Nicholas Fondacaro, “WashPost ‘Fact Checker’ Admittedly Uses Faulty Data to Dismiss Good Guys With Guns,” MRC News Busters, January 31st, 2023

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