Article published Friday, May 29, 2015, at Fox News.

'Covering Guns': Columbia University's 'workshop' for journalists far from objective

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Columbia University would never sponsor an event funded by the National Rifle Association. What’s more, the idea would seem especially outlandish if most of the speakers at the event were NRA supporters.

Yet, gun control advocate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his gun control group Everytown are now funding a two-day workshop in Phoenix on Friday and Saturday sponsored by Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The event will bring together journalists from around the country to learn about “covering guns and gun violence.”

Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, claims that there is “no party line” and calls the workshop “very balanced.”

But gun control advocates make up 15 of the panel’s 17 experts. Aren’t journalism schools supposed to teach journalists to present both sides of a story? Why doesn't Columbia feature other speakers who argue that people should be able to defend themselves with guns?

Only two law enforcement officers will be making presentations: Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, and Tucson police chief Roberto A. Villaseñor. Both are proponents of stricter gun control. Dupnik, a liberal Democrat, has long attacked Arizona’s concealed handgun laws for being too lax and let people carry in too many places. Villaseñor has been a strong outspoken supporter of President Obama’s gun control proposals.

These law enforcement officers represent a minority view. A 2013 nationwide survey of PoliceOne’s 450,000 members found that 91% of law enforcement support concealed carry laws. Eighty percent believe that a concealed carry permit holder could have reduced casualties from such recent tragedies as Newtown and Aurora. Ninety-two percent think that Obama’s proposed assault weapon ban would either increase or have no effect on violent crime.

Columbia University could easily have found law enforcement officials with an alternative viewpoint.

All five academic researchers also happen to be proponents of more gun control. Roseanna Ander argues that Obama’s proposals are “really important and promising.” Philip Cook maintains that the previous assault weapons ban just didn’t go far enough. Jim MacMillan claims the solution is simple: “Fewer guns would equal fewer deaths.” Garen Wintemute considers Obama’s proposed assault weapons ban to be a “great idea” and states that “Gun policy in the US . . . reflects the priorities of a radical fringe of gun owners.” And Jill Messing advocates stricter gun control as a means of reducing domestic violence.

But the academic research points in exactly the opposite direction. Published academic research by criminologists and economists consistently finds that assault weapons bans have not reduced crime.

Last fall, the Crime Prevention Research Center, where I serve as president, conducted a survey of economists who have published refereed empirical journal articles on firearms, with 88% of those from North America saying that guns are used more often in self-defense than in crime and 91% saying that gun-free zones attract criminals. But Columbia managed not to enlist a single researcher who is skeptical of gun control.

Just two speakers actually support gun ownership, but conservative commentator S.E. Cupp has no particular expertise on the issue. And conservative lawyer David Kopel will speak only about the history of the Second Amendment.

Unfortunately, Columbia’s Dart center treats Bloomberg and his various anti-gun groups as simply providing objective news. Their posts announcing the workshop uncritically repeat claims made by Bloomberg. Among these falsehoods is a gross exaggeration of the number of people who are murdered with guns. “Nearly 12,000 murdered with guns each year,” parrots Columbia. In fact, the FBI reports that the number of murder victims has stayed below 9,000 since 2010.

Similarly, the claim that the U.S. has a firearm murder “rate 20 times higher than other developed countries” is absurd with several developed countries having much higher firearm murder rates that the U.S. (Brazil, Mexico, and Russia).

Columbia also relies on Bloomberg for the claim that “nearly 100 school shootings have occurred since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary only two years ago.” Even liberal-leaning PolitiFact described this claim as “mostly false,” as Bloomberg’s number is five times larger than the actual number. CNN and Fox have also disputed the Bloomberg claim.

Michael Bloomberg is spending over $50 million a year on his anti-gun message and it is overwhelming the gun debate. On television ads alone in 2013, he outspent the NRA and all other self-defense groups combined by 6.3 times. And, he’s just announced a new news agency which will start up in June that will focus on anti-gun stories.

For a man worth $36 billion, Bloomberg can afford to cover all the bases to get his message out. But you would think that Columbia would have the gumption to at least use basic journalistic practices of fact checking and teaching journalists to see both sides of an issue when they offer a workshop.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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