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The Mass Hysteria of Mass Shootings by Bonnie Hobart
Mass shootings. That’s a scary phrase, and unfortunately it’s one we have heard much too often recently. What exactly is a “mass shooting”, and is every headline bearing the phrase truly describing a “mass shooting”?
In the 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defined mass murderer as someone who “kills four or more people in a single incident (not including himself), typically in a single location”. However, the government has never defined mass shooting as a separate category, and there is not yet a universally accepted definition of the term. After the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Congress defined “mass killings” to mean “three or more killings in a single incident.” Beyond these definitions there are no legally defined parameters as to what constitutes a “mass shooting”. This leaves the field wide open for the media to create any definition that suits their objectives.
A number of disturbing headlines have been seen recently “Over 300 mass shootings this year”. “The number of mass shootings in the United States hits 307”. These are frightening to read. Based on these headlines it sounds as if dozens of people are being gunned down every day in every single instance involving guns. However, the data has a slightly different story to tell. This report lists all the mass shootings” so far in 2018. Let’s look at a snapshot of the most recent, the first ten shootings on the list. According to the only current definitions of “mass killing” or “mass murder” only one of the incidents on the list qualifies. In reality, a lot of these “mass shootings “ have resulted in zero deaths.
Let’s widen the perspective a little and take a look at some of the realities of American gun ownership. Accidents happen. This is tragic and often irresponsible, but just like in every aspect of life it’s a reality. Accidents happen and sometimes people shoot themselves or others unintentionally. Does this qualify as a mass shooting? Is it worse than an accidental death or injury by any other means? Suicide is another sad reality of gun use. However the use of a gun is by no means the only method of suicide we see in this country. With the creeping acceptance of legal euthanasia or assisted suicide, should we really call suicide by gun a “mass shooting “?
On a lighter note, what about all the signs found in National Forests or along rural roads that are riddled with bullet holes? Are these victims of “mass shootings “ too? Earlier this year a neighbor was out shooting in his back yard, not realizing his shooting range had recently been transformed into his wife’s new garden. He took out most of her newly transplanted tomatoes. Tragic, but is it a “mass shooting “?
Of these 300 incidents proclaimed “mass shootings “ in 2018 by the media, only 23 qualify as mass murder per the definition set forth by the FBI. That’s less than ten percent of the number screaming at us from the various headlines. To put this in a different perspective, somewhere between 250,0000 – 400,000 people die every year from hospital errors. That is now the third leading cause of death in the United States. There’s a big difference between 23 and 250,000. So why is it that “mass shootings “, a term that doesn’t even exist according to FBI definitions, get so much more attention than the numerous other causes of death that claim so many more lives each year?
According to the very fluid definition of a “mass shooting “ just about anything can be classified as such. The data here shows exactly what has been labeled a “mass shooting” this year. There haven’t been nearly as many deaths as one would assume reading a headline proclaiming “Over 300 mass shootings“ this year. This is a good thing, no one wants to hear about the deaths of innocent people by any means. We do however, want facts and accuracy from our news sources, scary headlines get attention, and unfortunately many people never read beyond the headlines, but they should. The whole story is rarely found in a headline, but it is always worth knowing.
Bonnie is a libertarian living in Teller County, Colorado. She’s a passionate about fitness, animal rescue, and an avid outdoor adventurer.
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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Lance Cayko at 303.775.7406 or email at CommunicationsDirector@LPColorado.org.