WASHINGTON — A man with a semiautomatic weapon tried to kill as many people as he could Monday night at one of the country’s largest food festivals in Gilroy, Calif. Eighteen people were shot. Three were killed. But nearly all American news organizations didn't contain the words "mass shooting." Why? Because only three were killed, not the "necessary" four.
The one outlet that originally and accurately called a “mass shooting” a mass shooting was the BBC — in London. The Daily Beast also used "mass shooting," Because it goes by the Gun Violence Archive, a crowd-sourcing website that tracks gun deaths using media reports. It defines a mass shooting as "a gun attack in which at least four people are either killed or wounded."
The United States of America? We rely on a July 2015 Congressional Research Service report, which defines a mass shooting as "a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity."
The federal government and criminologists use this as strict criteria. So do gun rights advocates, because it helps minimize the truth and tells us that we just have another warped human being on our hands — not an actual public health crisis having to do with anyone and their mom being able to purchase firearms.
Think about that.
We're so far gone on this issue and in denial about rising gun violence that we have now calibrated the definition of a "mass shooting," because if four didn't die then it doesn't count. It's just described as "deadly." Because the murderer was a bad shot, because he missed and was killed by police before he could be designated as a “mass shooter.”
Smart fact-checking sites like Politifact are as jaded and calloused as anyone. In trying to answer the question, "How is a mass shooting defined?" it did its own warped verify report that included these two paragraphs:
"[Nancy] Pelosi’s tally of 273 mass shootings relies on the broad definition of at least four or more people killed or injured. Some of these events, however, include gang shootings or home invasion robberies, stretching the definition even further.
"There’s no doubt the California lawmaker picked the criteria that best fits her views on gun-control, and ignored more restrictive definitions."
Indeed, like a lot of things in this polarized country now, it's all about your point of view. From Politifact's piece: "As PolitiFact Florida reported in 2015, 'Politicians or others who want to make a point about guns choose a set of data and a definition that reinforces the point they want to make. People who want more gun control tend to choose more expansive definitions.
"'Those who want to create a sense of crisis over the violence will tend to use lower cutoffs, while those who want to minimize the problem will use higher cutoffs," Gary Kleck, a criminology professor at Florida State University."
Oh, the three people who died included a 13-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. Little Stephen Romero was actually playing in a bounce house when he was shot in the back indiscriminately by a man who kept emptying rounds in his weapon, trying to murder as many as possible.
But he wasn't a "mass shooter." This tragedy doesn't go down as a "mass shooting." Because not enough died to "earn" that distinction.
Tell that to Stephen Romero's parents as they prepare to bury their 6-year-old son.