it seems some mass shootings aren’t mass enough

Sometimes I find myself sitting around and thinking You know, this situation is pretty fucked up. I was thinking that after yesterday’s mass shooting. Which by the most commonly used definition of the term wasn’t actually a mass shooting.

A culture is pretty fucked up when there has to be a debate over how to define ‘mass shooting’. Here’s the most commonly used definition:

Shootings at a public place in which the shooter murdered four or more people, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence, in a single episode.

There are at least three problems with this definition. Here’s the first and most obvious problem: murdered. This definition only counts bodies. You go to your neighborhood cineplex and wound half a dozen people but only kill a couple of them, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s pretty much fucked up, right there.


Not a mass shooter.

Second problem: excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence. I can sort of understand why researchers would choose to exclude gang and drug violence. That sort of violence is incidental to other behaviors — the violence is a consequence of gang/drug activity. You get involved in gangs or the drug trade, you’re voluntarily assuming a certain amount of risk. It’s like BASE jumping in that sense. So if you kill a half-dozen folks when your drug deal goes bad, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s fucked up.

But domestic violence? Why exclude that? It’s the most common sort of violence faced by the public. In fact, if you include domestic violence, the number of mass shootings skyrockets — even if you restrict the definition of mass shooting to those that produce multiple corpses. The research is limited, but it all suggests that the vast majority of mass shootings take place in a domestic situation — a house or an apartment.

What we’re talking about here is male violence against women. Almost all mass shooters are men, and the most common type of mass shooting is a man shooting members of his family (or his ex’s family, or his girlfriend’s family, or the family of a woman who rejected him). Most of those victims are women and kids. You get pissed off and kill a bunch of folks you claim to love — folks who aren’t strangers — it doesn’t count as a mass shooting. Maybe they’ll count it if you do it in at the local McDonald’s. Maybe. But otherwise it’s just another domestic murder. You know what that is? It’s fucked up, is what it is.

And here’s the third problem with that definition: in which the shooter murdered. The shooter isn’t included in the butcher’s bill. Now, I understand the emotion behind excluding the shooter. The sumbitch doing the shooting doesn’t deserve to be considered a victim. But it’s still part of the episode; he’s still dead or wounded. And let’s be honest, that’s often just as intentional as the shooting of the other folks. You shuffle over to the local mall and open fire, kill three people, wound half a dozen more, then eat your Glock, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That is totally fucked up.

Not mass shooting victims.

Not mass shooting victims.

The shooting yesterday? Not a mass shooting. Not the one in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota in which four people were wounded. Not the one in Chicago, where only one of the four people who were shot actually died. Not the one in West Palm Beach, in which two were wounded and two were killed. And not the one in Virginia — the one that was televised, the one that left three people dead (yes, I’m including the shooter) and one wounded.

That’s six dead and ten wounded. Yesterday. And not one of them is considered a mass shooting. Fucked up, is what it is. We’re talking 33 shooting incidents in August (so far) with 40 dead and 124 wounded — and not one of them is considered a mass shooting. That’s fucked up on so many levels.

What if we broaden the definition of mass shooting?

Shootings in which four or more people are killed or wounded in a single episode.

Makes sense, doesn’t it. There’s actually a crowd-sourced mass shooting tracker that uses that definition. By that definition there have been 248 mass shootings so far in 2015. That’s as of fifteen hours ago. There’ll be more today. You can count on it. And the fact that you can count on another mass shooting today — one that will go uncounted because not enough people died, or because the wrong people died, or because the dead weren’t littering a public place — that’s fucked up beyond all recognition.

And here’s another thing that’s fucked up. The guy who shot the reporter and cameraman in Virginia recorded the non-mass shooting on his phone and posted it to Facebook and Twitter. That’s fucked up in ways beyond the obvious ‘What sort of twisted individual would put that shit on social media?’ way. It’s fucked up because research shows that mass shootings that get publicized tend to be contagious. They spark more mass shootings, often with the same weapons used in the initial mass shooting.

People who, for one reason or another, are fucked up in some way often model their behavior on the behavior of other folks. Some highly publicized behaviors, like teen suicides or hate crimes, establish what social psychologists call a path of action — a complete narrative in which the person can visualize their steps and their effects. And that path of action helps them follow through on the act — whether it’s suicide, bashing trans folks, or shooting a whole bunch of people.

So it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll see more homemade first person shooter videos. This may become a trend. Which brings me back to my original thought. This situation is pretty fucked up.

UPDATE: As of January 2016, the mass shooting tracker mentioned above revised its definition of a mass shooting to exclude the shooter. The new definition is “Four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”

My initial response is that excluding the shooter from the body count seems unnecessarily judgmental, as if including the shooter would suggest sympathy for him. On further reflection, though, the definition includes the wounded as well as the dead — and it makes sense to exclude the shooter if he was wounded by law enforcement in their efforts to stop the shooting.

9 thoughts on “it seems some mass shootings aren’t mass enough

  1. Is it ever. What a sick culture we live in right now. Snuff video taken to a new mass media level for “ultimate exposure”. I want to leave this country. For real.


    • Despair. That’s what a lot of folks feel, I think — and understandably so. But the problem with despair is it’s passive. Anger, I think, is a better response. Even if all you ever do is talk about the situation, it helps a bit to get information out there and spread the anger. If enough people take up the anger, maybe we can get something done.

      But man, it’s hard to maintain the anger — and despair is so fucking seductive.


    • Certainly the desire to announce “I did this!” through social media is shared by terrorist groups and egoistic mass shooters. But I think conflating this particular shooter with ISIS is a distraction.


  2. Thanks for writing this and sharing it. As a journalist, what happened this week has been playing deeply on my mind. I plan to write something myself soon in the hope of helping others who may be feeling the same. Really enjoyed reading your post.


    • The worst news events are, sadly, often the most enlightening. This particular tragedy speaks to so many social issues — the ubiquity of social media, easy access to firearms, workplace violence against women, shaping science to fit ideology by narrowly defining a phenomenon. The responses to this crime says a lot about who we are as a society — and it doesn’t reflect well on us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Blogging 101: Zero to Hero (Day 14 – Deeper into the Blogosphere) | Newshound to Novelist

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