After a mass shooting, many in the media rush to portray these extremely rare incidents as if they were common occurrences. Such reporting ignores the statistics that demonstrate the rarity of such acts of terror. They instead look for dramatic headlines.
Contrary to reports, what happened in Las Vegas is not the 273rd mass shooting of the year.
The government does not have a definition for mass shooting
A 2013 Congressional report acknowledged that the government currently doesn’t have a standard definition for the term “mass shooting.” They decided to come up with their own:
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.
There are important distinctions here that hadn’t been made before. The most notable was that this report defined “mass shooting” as one in which four or more people are killed. That’s a major departure from the definition being used by gun control groups like the Gun Violence Archive. They define a “mass shooting” as an event in which four or more people are shot.
In addition, the Congressional definition of mass shooting also applies motives. The report asserts that mass shootings occur when gunmen target victims indiscriminately. That excludes gang activity which actually represents a large share of reports considered to be mass shootings by the Gun Violence Archive and others.
It’s quite easy to see how these mass shooting numbers can be, and have been, manipulated for political purposes. The number depends entirely upon the definition.
Las Vegas is not the 273rd mass shooting of 2017
Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, The Toledo Blade ran an article with a dubious headline: “Las Vegas tragedy is 273rd mass shooting in 275 days.” This was a textbook example of a misleading headline, given that the article itself serves as a refutation.
The body of the article admitted that there was no agreed upon definition of mass shooting. Yet, the headline states definitively that what happened in Las Vegas was the 273rd mass shooting to take place this year.
To assign a specific number to mass shootings is difficult in and of itself. But to assign a number for which there is no universally accepted definition for mass shooting is impossible. Attempting to do so without explaining the difficulty is fallacious.
It cannot be stated definitively if the mass shooting in Las Vegas is the 273rd of 2017, or the 274th, or the 174th. Such would depend entirely upon the definition of mass shooting.
(Photo of people scrambling for shelter at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after a gunman opened fire leaving at least 50 people dead and more than 500 injured by David Becker/Getty Images.)