Another shooting massacre has devastated an American community. How many does that make this year? Seven, 12, 111 – somewhere in between, or even more? It all depends on who you ask. There are almost as many different definitions of “mass shooting” as there are agencies and organizations tracking them.
Why does it matter how we define the term mass shooting? In the end, the labels we put on these actions and the qualifications we establish don’t do much for the people who have taken a bullet – or anyone left supporting those who survived or mourning those who didn’t. Yet, the argument must occur. It’s crucial not because defining the violence grants some power over it, but because not defining it gives power over the narrative – at least to those ideologically possessed enough to wield it.
After every shooting plastered across news outlets nationwide, the ignorant and ignoble alike use the lack of a universally accepted measure to bend the statistics to better suit the gun control narrative. It’s often said that numbers don’t lie, but that’s simply untrue. It’s all in how you spin them, and the left has managed to twist the facts to turn mass shootings into the ever-moving goalpost of gun control.
Establishing the Terms
Mass murders have been defined by the FBI since the 1980s. To qualify, an incident had to result in four deaths excluding the shooter – and they had to be from the same actual incident. Also excluded were acts of terrorism, gang shootings, drug deals gone awry, and pretty much anything connected to organized crime.
In 2013, the FBI changed that definition to include shootings that took at least three lives, not including the shooter.
While the media buzz term “mass shooting” has never been officially defined – and there is a not-so-subtle difference between the terms – the traditional way of counting was to simply adopt the FBI’s mass murder measure. But that wasn’t good enough, it seems.
Since 2015, many in the media have spurned the FBI’s statistics to cite a crowdsourced tracker from Reddit, created by random people on the internet. Their only qualification was that an incident leaves at least four people shot. It didn’t matter if the victims died, and it didn’t matter what the shooting was about or who the victims were. Naturally, should the shooter be shot in the process, that counted toward the four-person limit. It was even alleged at one point that pellet gun injuries were counted the same as gunshot wounds caused by actual firearms. The website owner was, according to reports, affiliated with Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization, so dishonest reporting tricks should come as no surprise.
In 2016, it seemed the shooting tracker merged with or morphed into the Gun Violence Archive, and the methodology changed slightly. This, at least, mirrored original FBI requirements, save one key difference – that the victims didn’t have to die to be counted.
It certainly makes sense to include surviving gunshot victims when determining whether an incident qualifies as a mass shooting. Sure, if only one or two people die, it isn’t a mass murder – but if 87 people were wounded, that’s still more than enough bullets flying around to qualify as a mass shooting to any reasonable person.
The trick here is to conflate the intentionally similar terms “mass murder” and “mass shooting.” It’s no different from what gun grabbers do when they call semiautomatic rifles “military-like rifles” or “assault weapons,” or even that sneaky moniker “fully semiautomatic.” Are they military-like? Sure, they look similar to military rifles – but they aren’t. Can they be used to assault people? Sure. But again, they aren’t actual military weapons. Calling something an assault rifle doesn’t make it a battle rifle – but that’s what they hope you’ll mistakenly think when you hear it.
Measuring With Different Cups
And they don’t stop there. According to some outlets, any shooting – regardless of circumstances – resulting in at least two injuries is a mass shooting. Think about that for a moment. If a man comes home early from work to find his wife in bed with the milkman, only to lose his mind and shoot them both in a fit of rage, that will fit the bill, inflating the numbers even more.
Back in the day, folks used a single cup to measure out ingredients to make biscuits. It didn’t matter how big the cup was because the ratio remained the same. Use the same cup for each ingredient, and your biscuits will come out right. Just about the only way to mess it up would be to swap cups mid-recipe – and that’s exactly what the left-wing media did in 2015.
While it’s duplicitous to use these inflated numbers as an appeal to the emotions of voters to get new gun control bills passed, that’s only the beginning. Recall the old “numbers don’t lie” bit? Having drastically different measures with different starting points is precisely how those with an agenda make liars out of even the most straightforward statistics.
Going by the “any old shooting that wounds at least four people, including the shooter, for any reason” criteria, there were a whopping 614 “mass shootings” in 2020. But only 48 met the FBI’s new three-victim definition for mass murders. Only 20 met the old requirement of four deaths, not counting the shooter – and these numbers don’t adjust for the circumstances of the shootings, just the number of deaths and whether the wounded and the shooter are counted.
In the end, it matters much less what size cup you use to scoop out your data – so long as you use the same cup across the board. Sure, higher numbers are scarier, but the real fearmongering and false journalism comes by citing the FBI’s combined 2014/2015 numbers for mass murders next to the gun violence archive’s 2020 numbers for mass shootings to manufacture an astronomical increase of more than 3,000%! Boy, oh boy, aren’t you just chomping at the bit to get those gun laws passed now?
As is the case with most outlandish claims from the left, these “facts” are best taken with a grain of salt and a shot of penicillin.
Read more from James Fite.