There have not been nearly 2,000 mass shootings in the United States since 2012.

Not by any standard definition, that is.

You can be forgiven for believing this statistic if you got your news from certain “explainer” websites or people like CNN’s cable-pundit-in-waiting Jim Acosta.

“After Sandy Hook we said never again. And then we let 1,576 mass shootings happen,” read a headline published Thursday by Vox. The article added that roughly 1,788 have been killed and 6,333 wounded in that same time period.

CNN’s Acosta, who enjoys reciting poems during White House press briefings when he’s not lecturing administration officials, faithfully parroted this bogus claim.

“Since Sandy Hook there have been at least 1,552 mass shootings, with at least 1,767 people killed and 6,227 wounded,” he tweeted.

The only thing worse than correcting a false narrative is having to do it twice. But that’s what we’re here for, so let’s get to it.

First, Vox pulls its information from the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings since 2013. The group explains its methodology for defining “mass shootings” [emphasis added]:

GVA uses a purely statistical threshold to define mass shooting based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter. GVA does not parse the definition to remove any subcategory of shooting. To that end we don’t exclude, set apart, caveat, or differentiate victims based upon the circumstances in which they were shot.

In that, the criteria are simple…if four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not involving the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold.

Oddly enough, the group then defines “mass shooting” elsewhere on its website as an event where, “FOUR or more killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.”

But what’s really confusing is the fact that the group’s “mass shooting” database is brimming with incidents in which people were only injured and no one was killed.

The “mass shootings” database includes, for example, a Dec. 12 incident in which four people were hurt in a shooting in Garland, Texas. No one was killed. The database also includes an incident from May 27th in which four people were injured by a shooter in Manhattan. No one was killed in that event either. It also includes an Oct. 28, 2016, incident in which four people were injured in Miami Gardens, Fla., but no one was killed.

There are many more examples like this found in the database.

It’s unclear why GVA lumps together fatal and non-fatal events. It’s also unclear why the group decided to straight-up redefine the term “mass shooting.”

For years, federal law enforcement agencies have operated under a standard that defines “mass shooting” as a single event in which there are three or more fatalities.

This isn’t to dismiss the seriousness of the violence outlined by the GVA database. Rather, it’s to question the wisdom of broadening the term “mass shooting” to include events in which no one was killed.

In 2015, Mother Jones’ Mark Follman addressed the dangers of blurring the lines between fatal and non-fatal acts of gun violence. He concluded that the number of “mass shootings” was indeed being overblown. One reason for this, he explained, was because certain trackers wrongly insisted on including gang-related violence. Another reason, Follman added, was that gun violence trackers relied on loosely defined terms.

Aside from presenting readers with a false impression of reality, the real danger of mishandling “mass shooting” statistics is that it slows the process of understanding what we’re dealing with as a nation.

“Almost all of the gun crimes behind the much larger statistic are less lethal and bear little relevance to the type of public mass murder we have just witnessed again. Including them in the same breath suggests that a 1 a.m. gang fight in a Sacramento restaurant, in which two were killed and two injured, is the same kind of event as a deranged man walking into a community college classroom and massacring nine and injuring nine others,” he wrote. “Or that a late-night shooting on a street in Savannah, Ga., yesterday that injured three and killed one is in the same category as the madness that just played out in Southern California.”

He added, “While all the victims are important, conflating those many other crimes with indiscriminate slaughter in public venues obscures our understanding of this complicated and growing problem. Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them — and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise.”


On the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, let’s try to understand the root of the problem. Let's maybe not try to gin up action via counterproductive partisan hackery.