Florida led the nation in mass shooting casualties in 2016 and remains in the top spot this year after headline-grabbing eruptions of gunfire, according to a gun-control group’s data being used in the political fight over loosening state firearm restrictions in the state.
Last year, 92 people were killed and another 194 wounded in Florida cases involving four or more gunshot victims, the data from the crowdsourced website, Mass Shooting Tracker, show. Those numbers include the historic massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June. 12.
The Florida carnage continued in 2017 as 26 more people were struck by bullets in mass shootings, the website shows. Among the victims: eight wounded Monday on Martin Luther King Day at a Miami-area park named after the civil rights leader who urged nonviolence. Ten days before that, a gunman at a Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim killed five and wounded six more.
To gun-rights backers in the Florida Legislature, the airport and park shootings underscored the need for passage of a bill filed weeks earlier that would have allowed the state’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit holders to carry their guns in airport passenger terminals or out in the open.
“All those shootings were in gun free zones where licensed permit holders are restricted from carrying,” Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said via text message. His bill — which would not allow gun owners to possess their weapons past federally controlled airport security checkpoints — gives concealed weapons permit holders the right to openly carry their firearms or to have them at elementary schools, state and local government meetings or on college campuses.
But in the eyes of the state Senate’s Democratic leader, Miami Gardens’ Oscar Braynon, much of the substance and logic behind Steube’s bill sounds like something out of an unrealistic Hollywood movie.
“The other side will say that, if you had someone with a gun there, this would be ‘Die Hard Part Five’ and one of the people will become John McLean and take out the shooter,” Braynon, said. “To me, that just sounds like foolishness.”
Braynon, who’s sponsoring a legislation to keep firearms out of performing arts centers, said that the numbers from Mass Shooting Tracker “don’t surprise me at all because of the number of guns in Florida. But each person uses the numbers for their own side.”
On that last point, Braynon echoes a lawmaker on the other side of the Capitol and ideological divide, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. Plakon — sponsoring legislation in the state House to allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campus if they have a permit — said critics of his bill aren’t presenting the right data to make their case.
“I’ve listened to all the parade of horribles and there is just not the evidence in the 31 states that have some form of campus carry that this is dangerous,” Plakon said. “Would bringing guns on campus under this bill be a problem? I see no evidence or statistics to show it.”
Plakon said he’s not familiar with the data from Mass Shooting Tracker, but he questioned the significance of Florida having the highest number of casualties from mass shootings because “those statistics in any given year will be highly variable because of the size of some mass shootings. And we had a particularly tragic one at Pulse.”
Had it not been for the Pulse shooting, Florida would not have had 286 mass shooting casualties in 2016 and would have fallen to fourth place behind California (251 casualties), Texas (210) and Illinois (207). California — which has a bigger population but more gun control than Florida or Texas — topped the list of total mass shooting casualties in 2015, 2014 and 2013, when the database was first begun under the “GunsAreCool” thread on the website Reddit.
Critics of the website say Mass Shooting Tracker relies too much on crowdsourcing and is therefore bound to have inaccuracies (the Pulse shooting numbers, for instance, listed 50 dead instead of 49). Also, the federal government only tracks mass shootings if four or more are killed. Mass Shooting Tracker includes four or more shot — and it includes any shooting, whether it’s a gang-related feud or a school massacre.
The Tampa Bay Times fact-checking website, PolitiFact, rapped U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2015 for citing the site’s statistics because “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.”
But one of the site’s founders, Oregon activist Brock Weller, suggested to a gun-control website in 2015 that gun-rights advocates and the federal government were downplaying the dangers of firearms.
“The goal is to stop minimizing these acts of violence,” Weller told The Trace.
The data, though, only has so much use in the Florida Legislature, according to Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth. He said “gun rights advocates don’t care much about facts” and refuse to see the connection between the availability of guns and the number of shootings in the United States.
“These stats become meaningless because each side uses it for their own purposes,” Clemens said. “If you’re a Republican, somehow the murders become proof that we need more guns. It’s counter-intuitive, and the data shows that to be a stupidly ignorant response, but that’s what we’ve been reduced to hearing.”