WASHINGTON, D.C. – Heartbreak hit California Wednesday night when a lone gunman snuffed out 12 lives at Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks – often called one of the nation’s safest cities.
Social media shook in disbelief: “Not again.”
Then the stats rolled out. Some headlines read, “307 mass shootings in 2018.” Others claimed, “312,” or “304.”
Verify exists to cut the clutter and get you the proven facts, so we took a deeper dive in the stats.
Here’s the thing: There’s no singular definition of “mass shooting.” The number you come up with boils down to your methodology.
The FBI used to define “mass murder” generally as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered, within one event, and in one or more locations in close geographical proximity.”
In 2013, Congress created a federal statue defining “mass killings” as “three or more killings in a single incident.”
Stanford University built a database in 2012 called The Stanford Mass Shootings of America. They collect incidents of “three or more shooting victims (not necessarily fatalities).”
Experts agree: No definition is better than the other.
“All mass shooting definitions are arbitrary in that there is no natural way to quantify such an event,” Standford Mass Shootings of America writes. “In setting up our threshold we wanted to focus on the shootings over the outcomes.”
Without a standardized definition for “mass shooting,” different organizations have different accounts, depending on the number of victims, the outcome of the victim and the type of incident (gun violence, gang related, domestic, terrorist, etc.)
“The government has never defined mass shooting as a separate category, and there is not yet a universally accepted definition of the term,” the RAND Corporation writes. “Thus, media outlets, academic researchers, and law enforcement agencies frequently use different definitions when discussing mass shootings, which can complicate our understanding of mass shooting trends and their relationship to gun policy.”
A majority of social media users are reporting there have been 307 mass shootings in 2018.
That number comes straight from the Gun Violence Archive, which collects information from news articles.
Their definition is generally considered to be broader. It includes gang-related and domestic incidents with at least four or more victims (not all fatal).
By their count, the first mass shooting this year took place inside an events center in Alabama during a New Year’s Eve party. One victim was killed.
The Washington Post has cataloged 158 mass shootings since Aug.1, 1966. The paper has tallied 68 deaths from mass shootings in 2018.
- Pennsylvania Carwash Shooting in Melcroft PA, 1/28/18 4 killed 1 injured
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland Florida 2/14/18 17 dead 14 injured
- Yountville Veterans Home Shooting Yountville, California 3/9/18 3 dead 0 injured
- Waffle House Shooting Nashville, Tennessee4/22/18 4 dead 4 injured
- Sante Fe High School Shooting Santa Fe, Texas 5/18/18 10 dead, 13 injured
- Capital Gazette Shooting Annapolis, Maryland 6/28/18 5 dead 2 injured
- Fifth Third Center Shooting Cincinnati, Ohio 9/6/18 3 dead 2 injured
- T&T Trucking shooting Bakersfield, California 9/12/18 5 dead 0 injured
- Rite Aid Warehouse Shooting Perryman, Maryland 9/20/18 3 dead 3 injured
- Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 11 dead 6 injured
- Thousand Oaks Nightclub Shooting Thousand Oaks, California 12 dead 22 injured
In short, this is a hard one to Verify. Numerous outlets and researchers report numbers based on their own methodologies, and, within the context of those differing systems, they are all correct within their own definitions.