Fact Check

351 Mass Shootings

The claim that there were 350 mass shootings in the first 334 days of 2015 hinges upon a disputable definition of "mass shooting."

Published Dec. 2, 2015


[green-label]Claim:[/green-label] A total of 351 mass shootings took place in the U.S. during the first 334 days of 2015.


[green-label]Example:[/green-label] [green-small][Collected via Twitter, November 2015][/green-small]

350 mass shootings

[green-label]Origins:[/green-label] On 2 December 2015, several publications reporting on a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, included a stat from the web site ShootingTracker.com about the number of mass shootings that had taken place in the U.S. so far in the calendar year 2015:

The Post found that there had been 351 shootings in the 334 days of 2015. Wednesday's incident in California marks the 352nd mass shooting in the nation. For comparison, 2014 saw 336 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which the Post used in its report. Wednesday's shooting at the Inland Regional Center also comes just one day after the facility held its annual holiday party.

The claim that there were 351 mass shootings in the first 334 days of 2015 hinges on the definition of mass shooting. While it might seem like a simple task to define "mass shooting," there really is no agreed upon definition. A 2013 congressional research service report defined a mass shooting as an incident involving four or more gun related deaths:

There is no broadly agreed-to, specific conceptualization of this issue, so this report uses its own definition for public mass shootings. These are incidents occurring in relatively public places, involving four or more deaths — not including the shooter(s) — and gunmen who select victims somewhat indiscriminately. The violence in these cases is not a means to an end—the gunmen do not pursue criminal profit or kill in the name of terrorist ideologies, for example.

A 2014 study on mass shootings used the same criterion (four or more deaths), and the FBI employed the same standard in 2005 to define "mass murder."

ShootingTracker.com, however, is based upon a different definition of mass shooting, one that (in keeping with the literal meaning of "shooting") is based upon the total number of people shot (i.e., wounded or killed by gunfire) in a single incident rather than solely the number of victims killed:

The old FBI definition of Mass Murder (not even the most recent one) is four or more people murdered in one event. It is only logical that a Mass Shooting is four or more people shot in one event.

Here at the Mass Shooting Tracker, we count the number of people shot rather than the number people killed because, "shooting" means "people shot".

Brock Weller, one of the people responsible for maintaining the crowdsourced web site ShootingTracker.com, elaborated on the reason to use four people shot instead of four people killed as the primary criterion for defining an event as a "mass shooting":

"The goal is to stop minimizing these acts of violence," Weller explains. The site's authors point to a 2012 shooting in which one person was killed and 18 people were wounded at a nightclub. Because only one person died, it was not considered a mass shooting. This June, 10 people were shot at a block party on a basketball court in Detroit; the next day, 11 were wounded when two people opened fire with a shotgun at a block party in West Philadelphia. Neither were widely referred to as mass shootings.

"Arguing that 18 people shot during one event is not a mass shooting is absurd," the Tracker's founders write. Medical advancements have helped save lives that would have otherwise been lost, a fact Weller believes the gun lobby benefits from. "Those gunshot victims are still just as shot and will never be the same," he says.

ShootingTracker.com's definition of a mass shooting isn't "wrong" (as we noted previously, there is no universal criterion for what defines a mass shooting), but it may be misunderstood, as many people interpret the term "mass shooting" to mean an incident that results in multiple deaths.

It should also be noted that GunViolenceArchive.org, another web site that tracks shootings across the United States, arrived at a slightly lower number of mass shootings, 310, over the same time period. Mark Bryant, the executive director of GVA, explained that discrepancy comes from two factors: GVA relies on a dedicated staff of 14 researchers instead of crowd sourcing, and they employ a slightly different definition for mass shootings:

First, we do not rely on crowdsourcing which causes misreads and duplication. We have a staff of 14 researchers which go through 1500 media, police, coroner and aggregate sites every day. We put eyeballs on each incident to determine its qualifications, not just number.

Second, we have a slightly different counting. We use the derived FBI definition of "Four or more shot and/or killed, not including the shooter at the same general time and location."  From that we logically separate the victims from the perpetrator. Mass Shooting Tracker includes the perp as a victim when they are shot or killed.

[Image Via GunViolenceArchive.org]


[green-label]Last updated:[/green-label] 4 December 2015

[green-label]Originally published:[/green-label] 2 December 2015

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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