On Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) sent out the following tweet after the Virginia Beach shooting:
Beneath the senator’s tweet, author and journalist Emily Miller wrote:
Because there isn’t an official set of criteria that can be used across the board to define “mass shooting,” many organizations and academics use the FBI definition of “mass murder” as the standard by which “mass shooting” is determined.
In a report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in 2015, William J. Krouse and Daniel J. Richardson wrote:
According to the FBI, the term “mass murder” has been defined 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. Based on this definition, for the purposes of this report, “mass shooting” is defined 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.
Similarly, a “mass public shooting” is defined to mean a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, in at least one or more public locations, such as, a workplace, school, restaurant, house of worship, neighborhood, or other public setting.
Despite this somewhat standardized definition, other organizations have set different criteria for what constitutes a mass shooting.
Mother Jones, which has compiled a comprehensive list of mass shooting incidents dating back to 1982, defines a mass shooter as one who kills three or more, as opposed to four or more.
Mass Shooting Tracker (MST), on the other hand, defines a mass shooting as “an incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree. This may include the gunman himself, or police shootings of civilians around the gunman.”
Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines a mass shooting as “four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”
According to Mother Jones, there have been four mass shootings in 2019; according to Mass Shooting Tracker, there have been 175; and according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 153.
It’s likely that Sen. Murphy used GVA as his source.
The problem with the senator’s likely sourcing is that public perception of what constitutes a mass shooting appears to be much more aligned with the Mother Jones data set – an incident in which one or more active shooters open fire in a school, church, or public space with the express and singular intent of killing as many innocent people as possible.
Shootings such as those that took place at Columbine High School, Pulse night club, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Las Vegas music festival are what many Americans think of when they hear the term “mass shooting.” Such events typically feature a high death toll and multiple serious injuries, and are widely covered by the national media.
Given the association many Americans have with the term “mass shooting,” it’s both disingenuous and misleading for Sen. Chris Murphy to state that there have been 150 mass shootings in 150 days without further explanation as to how he defines his terminology.
As of publication, Sen. Murphy’s tweet has 63,000 “likes,” and has been retweeted 22,500 times.