Mass Shootings – Definitions and Data

July 28, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

A few days ago, I wrote to date, since Sandy Hook, the US has had seventy-five “mass shootings.” I now put that phrase in quotation marks because taken literally, it’s misleading.

Here is the opening from a story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (here) posted Sunday night.

4 shot in assault rifle attack at Desire's Sampson park
A man armed with an assault rifle opened fire at a crowded park in Desire Sunday (July 26), shooting at least four people, including a man left critically wounded, New Orleans police said.
Is this a mass shooting? Not in most databases.

Literally, a mass shooting should be an incident where someone shoots a lot of people. The graph I used in that previous post included only public shootings. Or more precisely, public killings.  In the Lafayette movie theater, Rusty Houser killed two people and wounded nine. The FBI definition of “mass murder” sets the minimum at four deaths. By that definition, the Lafayette incident is not a mass murder.  If one of those two women had been seriously wounded rather than killed, the incident would not have been included in any database of multiple killings.

Most definitions also exclude gang killings. If gang members shoot and kill four members of another gang, even in a public place, it doesn’t get counted.  And then there are the domestic massacres – a family killed inside their home. These too do not make it into most definitions of “mass shootings.”

Now, broadening the definition, Guns Are Cool has created a Mass Shooting Tracker – a list of incidents gathered mostly from local news reports.  It includes all incidents where four or more people were shot, whether or not they died and regardless of setting.  As of yesterday, July 26th, the Tracker lists 207 shootings this year. July 26th also happens to be the 207th day of the year. You do the math.

In the assault rifle shooting above, nobody died. That’s not unusual. In 40% of the shootings, there are no deaths. In another 32%, only one person dies.  Multiple deaths are relatively rarer.

But guns are dangerous. Even when the victims are not in close range, and even when the gunman is not especially accurate, a gun can still do a lot of damage. The wounded in these shootings far outnumber the dead nearly three to one.

The Tracker’s criterion for a mass shooting is a minimum of four victims – killed or wounded. It looks like the typical incident in their database involves no deaths and enough wounded to meet that minimum.

Since the database uses news reports, when a victim is seriously wounded and dies days later, the Tracker probably does not include that in the deaths tally. For the same reason, in a large majority of cases (83%), the shooter is listed as “Unknown.” If the shooter is later identified, the Tracker database might still not pick up that story.

So the tally for this year: 207 mass shootings, 172 dead, 761 wounded.  Of course, those numbers will be dwarfed by their counterparts in non-mass shootings. Still, it illustrates one of the essential truths about guns: you can kill and wound a lot of people with them. Yes, if you have only a knife, you  can still slash several people, some maybe even fatally. But you have to get so close – literally within arm’s reach – and if they run away, you’re pretty much out of luck. Guns are so much more effective when it comes to killing and wounding. That’s why people buy them.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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