It’s official! The influencers and decision-makers who want to do something to reduce gun violence have decided that the definition of a ‘mass shooting’ is four or more people ending up dead, in many instances the toll including the shooter as well. This definition is central to a major analysis of mass shootings published last week by The Washington Post, which claims there have been 152 such events since Gary Gilmore began blasting away from the top of the Texas Tower in August, 1966.
These numbers works out to less than 3 mass shootings per year, which WaPo says is a ‘small slice’ of gun violence, and doesn’t include shootings that took place within a private residence or were street shootings involving gangs. To invent a definition which arbitrarily defines ‘mass’ shootings as only involving events where a certain number of people are killed, while ignoring non-fatal gun injuries, is to feed into a public discussion about gun violence which not only makes no sense, but completely distorts what gun violence is really all about. But right now, let’s stick with what WaPo has to say.
Since DD Trump was inaugurated, there have been 12 mass shootings, resulting in 142 deaths and another 482 individuals wounded or injured but still alive. In the two final years of the Obama regime, there were also 12 mass shootings, with the final toll coming to 115 dead and 100 surviving injuries or wounds. Were it not for the ability of one mass shooter to barricade himself in a hotel room far above an enormous group of potential targets and another who charged into a densely-packed nightclub, right now we would be bumping along with every mass shooting claiming, on average, roughly 7 fatalities and 5 non-fatal assaults.
What I don’t understand in all the ongoing discussion about mass shootings is the obsession we seem to have with defining these events in a way which allows us to keep track of the number of deaths and injuries with a degree of certainty that we never, ever impose on any other attempt to analyze or understand gun violence. By drawing a red line between shootings which occur in public spaces but don’t involve public streets where so-called ‘gang’ shootings occur, we are not only accepting an arbitrary definition of this totally fanciful phenomena known as ‘gang violence,’ but along with drawing another red line between shootings which occur in private spaces (i.e., residences) we are probably reducing the real number of shootings that claim multiple victims by as much as half.
When the cops arrive at a murder scene and nobody saw nuttin’ except the body lying in the street, they describe the event as ‘gang violence.’ That’s the end of that. When the pissed-off ex-husband walks into a family party to which he was disinvited and begins blasting away, he’s not putting a bullet into as many bodies as possible because it’s a private space; he kills everyone he can because that’s where they all happened to be at the same time.
The real reason the FBI narrows its definition of ‘mass shootings’ is because if the agency were to use a definition that took all shootings with multiple deaths into account, or defined a ‘shooting’ as involving multiple victims whether they died or not, all of a sudden their accurate numbers on mass shootings quoted by WaPo and every other mainstream media outlet would disappear.
According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, who define a mass shooting as any incident in which 4 people are killed or wounded, there have been 102 such events this year alone, with 130 fatal victims and another 413 who were wounded but survived. The WaPo says there have been 152 mass shootings since 1966. Using the GVA’s much more realistic definition, we’ll get there this year by mid-July. And that’s what mass shootings in the United States are really all about.