Ann Coulter, well known in the US as a conservative writer and author of In Trump We Trust, told Fox News last week that “47 per cent of all mass shootings since 2000 have been committed by first and second generation immigrants.”
She was elaborating on her column for the right-wing news website, Breitbart, which has already been liked 17,000 times on Facebook.
By our count, Coulter’s article contains ten false or contested claims about mass shootings, immigration and gun control in the US.
Here they are.
“We’re hauling in nearly 2 million manifestly unvetted Third World immigrants every year”
Let’s break this down.
a) “Nearly 2 million”?
This figure is contested.
The Center for Immigration Studies said in December 2017 that a total of 1.8 million legal and illegal immigrants “likely arrived” in the US in 2016. They acknowledge this was an extrapolation of data from the first six months of 2016 and not based on the full year’s data.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, “In 2016, 1.49 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States.” That’s about 25 per cent lower than Ms Coulter’s estimate.
The MPI data includes “naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.” In other words, legal and illegal migrants.
b) “Manifestly unvetted”?
This is not true.
Even before Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban”, people applying for refugee status in the US had to pass a 20-stage process, including an interview with the UN, three fingerprint screenings and an extensive interview with a US Homeland Security office, usually conducted in Jordan or Turkey.
In October, the Brennan Center, which operates out of the New York University School of Law, said: “The U.S. visa vetting system is one of the world’s toughest. Applicants’ biographic data, photographs, and fingerprints are collected and screened against a range of national security databases that contain millions of entries and include classified information.”
They pointed out that people from war-torn countries are routinely refused visas: “over half of all Somalis and Syrians applying for visas were rejected last year, and so were close to half of all Libyans.”
There will be some individuals who find their way to the US illegally without vetting, but there’s no evidence that it’s at a rate of millions every year.
c) “Third World”?
The term “third world” is controversial and hard to define. It’s not clear that it applies to the countries that send the most immigrants to the US each year.
According to the Migration Policy Center: “India was the leading country of origin, with 175,100 arriving in 2016, followed by 160,200 from China/Hong Kong, 150,400 from Mexico, 54,700 from Cuba, and 46,600 from the Philippines.”
China is the second largest economy in the world, and India is expected to overtake the UK to become the fifth largest economy in 2018. Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world, and according to the World Economic Forum, is “firmly in the ‘upper middle income’” group of countries.
As we’ve seen, the total number of immigrants arriving each year is (potentially much) less than 2 million. It’s simply not possible that millions of people could arrive from “third world” countries each year when citizens of relatively wealthy nations like Mexico, China and India make up the bulk of new migrants.
“if we weren’t dumping millions of psychotic and terrorist foreigners on the country”
This is not true.
We can only assume Ms Coulter is referring to what she believes are the 2 million immigrants who arrive in the US each year. As we’ve seen, it’s not even clear that the total number of (legal and illegal) migrants arriving is that high, let alone the number of “psychotic and terrorist” ones.
A report by the Cato Institute found that an American has a one in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack. The same study found the chance of being murdered in an attack by an illegal immigrant is one in 10.9 billion.
“our immigration policies require approximately one-third of the country to be constantly watching another third of the country”
We don’t know what Ms Coulter is referring to here.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 44 million immigrants living in the USA today. That’s significantly lower than a third of the total population (in fact, more like a sixth).
She may be referring to the fact that as a group, immigrants and their US-born children currently make up 27 per cent of the US population (about 86.4 million people in total).
But that still doesn’t explain who she imagines is doing the “constant watching.”
“the United States has fewer mass shootings per capita than many other developed countries, including Norway, France, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium and the Czech Republic.”
This is no longer true and is based on contested data.
The claim appears to come from a study by the Crime Prevention Research Center, an organisation that advocates for concealed weapons.
The research looked at mass shootings in European countries and the US between January 2009 and December 2015. It found that during that period, the US had a proportionately lower rate of mass shootings than Norway, France, Switzerland, etc.
But it’s worth saying this is partly the result of these countries having relatively small populations. For example, Norway suffered one mass shooting between 2009 and 2015 (the 2011 attack by Anders Breivik). But with a population of just over 5 million, this pushed up the per capita shooting rate significantly.
The same is true of Switzerland (two shootings in six years, and a population of 8.4 million), Finland (one shooting in a population of 5.5 million people), Belgium (two shootings and 11 million citizens) and the Czech Republic (one shooting and 10.5 million people).
France is perhaps the only exception here: it has a higher population (66.9 million), and suffered 6 shootings between 2009 and 2015 (including the Paris attacks).
The researchers define “mass shooting” as an incident in which four of more people (other than the gunman) are killed. But in January 2013, the government issued a new mandate for federal investigations into mass shootings, which lowered the threshold to three or more killings. (This is the definition we used in our recent FactCheck video on mass shootings in the US and Australia.)
And perhaps more crucially, the research doesn’t include 2016 and 2017 – two of the deadliest years on record for mass shootings in America.
In the six years between 2009 and 2015, there were 31 mass shootings in the US, according to Mother Jones.
In the two years since January 2016, there have been 19 such incidents. That’s a rate of 0.058 mass shootings per million people in the US.
Meanwhile, there have been no mass shootings (with 3+ fatalities) in Norway, France, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium or the Czech Republic since January 2016. Obviously, that’s a rate of 0 per million.
“98 percent of our mass shootings occur in ‘gun-free zones’”
This is not true.
Again, it seems to come from the pro-gun Crime Prevention Research Center. Its president, John Lott, has published research claiming that only 3.8 per cent of mass shootings between 1988 and 2015 took place in areas where guns were allowed.
This research has been used by others to claim that the vast majority of shootings take place in “gun-free zones”, as Ms Coulter claims here.
But as many analysts have said, this is based on a shaky definition of “gun-free zones”.
Louis Klarevas, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, points out that Lott’s research brackets the Washington Navy Yard, a military base that was the site of a mass shooting, as a “gun-free zone.”
Lott does this, apparently, because civilians aren’t allowed to carry weapons in that area. But of course, this ignores the fact that as a military base, there would have been many armed members of the military on site.
Louis Klarevas and researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that out of 111 shootings since 1966 in which more than 6 people died, 13 took place in gun-free zones and five took place in gun-restricting zones.
That means, on the best available evidence, we know that the proportion of mass shootings that take place in “gun-free zones” is 16 per cent – not 98 per cent as Ms Coulter claims.
“There have been about 34 mass shootings [in the US] since 2000. Forty-seven percent — 16 — were committed by first- and second-generation immigrants”
a) “34 mass shootings”?
This claim is highly disputed.
It depends on what definition of mass shooting you use.
Ms Coulter’s article contains a list of “immigrant mass shootings, defined as a shooting at the same general time and location, not during the commission of another crime, that leaves at least four people dead — i.e. no gangland shootings, no ‘man kills family, then self’ and no drug deals gone bad.”
She says she has excluded the Las Vegas shooting “because law enforcement has released nothing but lies about it, so that shooting remains unclassifiable.” There’s no evidence to support her claim here.
She also excludes “family dispute shootings; targeted assassinations of police officers; and shootings on Indian reservations.”
On that basis, she concludes that there have been 34 mass shootings in the US since 2000.
But most analysts put the figure much higher. Mother Jones, which defines a mass shooting as the killing of three or more people in a public place, says there have been 66 since 2000.
The Gun Violence Archive, which includes the number of injuries, says there have been 34 mass shootings in 2018 alone.
b) “Forty-seven percent — 16 — were committed by first- and second-generation immigrants”?
This is highly disputed.
One of the 16 incidents that Ms Coulter lists as an “immigrant mass shooting” was not committed by a Barbadian-American as she claims (this is discussed in more detail below).
Another incident that makes her list – the 2004 killing of six people by Chai Soua Vang – is not considered a mass shooting according to the Mother Jones definition. We assume this is because it took place on private property, which (apart from two stated exceptions) Mother Jones usually considers a disqualifying factor for a mass shooting.
That leaves us with 14 mass shootings since 2000 that have been committed by first and second generation immigrants.
If we use the Mother Jones definition, there have been 66 mass shootings committed in total since 2000.
That means first and second generation immigrants were responsible for 21 per cent of mass shootings, not 47 per cent as Ms Coulter claims.
That’s slightly lower than the proportion of the US population who are first or second-generation immigrants (24 per cent according to Pew Research Center analysis in 2012).
“Probable Barbadian immigrant Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people inside the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013.”
This is one of the incidents that made it on Ms Coulter’s list of immigrant killings. But we can’t find reliable evidence to support the claim that Aaron Alexis was Barbadian.
The only source we can find for the claim that Aaron Alexis was Barbadian is this website, which begins its piece by acknowledging that “This is partly speculation, and I will be glad of facts to confirm or deny it.”
It goes on to say that “Aaron Alexis does not sound like a regular African-American name, somehow.”
It claims that “African-Americans no longer call themselves regular American names, from Anglo-Saxon and biblical sources. They call themselves and their children Trayvon and Tawana, and Shaniqa, and similar peculiar things […] What kind of people (who are black and in Brooklyn) call themselves Aaron, Anthony, Sarah, and Helen [referring to Alexis and his relatives]?”
On this basis, and the fact that there’s a Barbadian food shop near Alexis’ home, the article suggests that Alexis may himself have been Barbadian.