The Mass Shooting Myth

In the wake of the deadly mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso over the weekend, traditional and social media exploded with the astonishing claim that America has had more than 250 such mass shooting incidents in just the first seven months of this year. In fact, with more than 250 incidents in just 219 days, the number of mass shootings has dwarfed the number of days in 2019.

This claim has, of course, been used to bolster arguments that America is an inherently violent place, that it needs stricter gun control laws and even gun confiscation, and that politicians (Republicans specifically) are complicit in this orgy of murder.

This claim is also wildly misleading at best and wholly inaccurate at worst.

The FBI defines a "mass murder" or "mass killing" as "a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders." There is no standard definition for "mass shooting." The "250 mass shootings in 219 days in 2019" claim comes from data collected by the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are shot.

This includes shootings in which no one was killed, domestic violence incidents, murder-suicides, gang and drug shootings, drive-by shootings, accidental firearm discharges, and any incident at all in which four people or more are shot. The commonly accepted definition of a mass shooting--an individual randomly opening fire on a group of people--varies significantly from this and thus a great deal of context is needed before the Gun Violence Archive's statistics can be accepted at face value.

The overwhelming majority of the 255 mass shootings in the database as of this writing were either gang-related shootings or domestic incidents that did not target random people. For instance, a full 20 of them (7.8%) occurred in the city of Chicago alone, and nearly all of these were drug and/or gang-related. Nine of the 255 mass shootings (3.5%) occurred in Baltimore, and again nearly all involved drugs and/or gangs. Six took place in Washington, DC, while an additional four occurred in St. Louis. Taken together, four cities accounted for more than 10% of all of the mass shootings in 2019.

Additionally, 34 mass shootings (13%) occurred in California alone. Once again, the overwhelming majority were either domestic incidents or gangland shootings.

129 of the 255 mass shootings the Gun Violence Archive cataloged had no fatalities. In 73 of them, only one victim was killed (though others were wounded). In 11 of them, three people were killed. Only 27 meet the FBI's definition of a "mass killing" of four or more people (not including the gunman) killed in one location.

Of the remaining 27 incidents that do meet the FBI's definition of a mass killing, Nine were domestic incidents. Five were gang or drug-related attacks. One was a homeowner in Houston, Texas shooting five people who were allegedly breaking into his home and may well prove to be a valid use of lethal self-defense.

This means that just 12 incidents this year would meet the commonly accepted definition of a random mass shooting. This is a high number to be sure, but it is a far cry from the 250-plus in 219 days in 2019.

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