Recent PolitiFact rulings in the national gun debate

The mass murders in Orlando have rekindled the national debate over gun violence.

This has been a frequent topic for PolitiFact fact checks. Abbreviated versions of four of those fact checks can be found below.

For full versions, please see

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Nicholas Kristof on Thursday, Aug. 27th, 2015, in his column in The New York Times:

“More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.”

Even using a significantly higher estimate for Civil War deaths than we did the last time we fact-checked this claim, the comparison still holds up.

The number of gun deaths since 1968 — including, as Kristof was careful to note, both homicides and suicides — was higher than war fatalities by roughly 120,000 deaths, or almost four years’ worth of gun deaths in the United States.

We rate the claim True.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Friday, Oct. 2nd, 2015, in a tweet:

“380 Americans have been killed in 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone.”

Schultz cited the crowdsourcing site Mass Shooting Tracker, which showed 379 people killed in 296 mass shootings.

But Mass Shooting Tracker uses an extremely broad definition of what many people would consider a mass shooting.

If she had used a more restrictive definition that only counts incidents with deaths, as the federal government does, she would have come up with a much lower number. The Congressional Research Service counted 25 incidents in 2013, compared with 363 incidents counted by Mass Shooting Tracker.

The claim is partially accurate but takes things out of context.

We rate this claim Half True.

Barack Obama on Thursday, June 18th, 2015, in remarks at the White House:

“This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

The data show that it clearly happens in other countries, and in at least three of them, there’s evidence that the rate of killings in mass-shooting events occurred at a higher per-capita rate than in the United States between 2000 and 2014.

The only partial support for Obama’s claim is that the per-capita gun-incident fatality rate in the United States does rank in the top one-third of the list of 11 countries studied.

On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.

California U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson on Monday, Dec. 7th, 2015, in a speech:

“Since 2004, more than 2,000 suspected terrorists have legally purchased weapons in the United States.”

Thompson backed up his claim with FBI data that show 2,043 people on the agency’s terror watch list successfully applied for weapons at licensed gun shops over the past decade. There’s no way to track how many people on the list legally bought weapons at gun shows, as those transactions aren’t subject to federal background checks. But it makes sense to assume some did.

The congressman left out the fact that a federal audit in 2009 found 35 percent of the identities on the list had no ties to current terrorism cases. The audit said many of the names remained on the list when they should have been removed.

But given the large size of the terror watch list — with perhaps 10,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners — it’s reasonable to assume that 200 or more on the list made legal weapons purchases each year over the past decade.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

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