At least 17 people were wounded Sunday evening when a torrent of gang-related gunfire descended on hundreds of revelers at a block party following a parade in New Orleans. To reporters and their readers, the incident’s high casualty count would seem to fit the definition of a mass shooting. But according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the bloodshed wasn’t deadly enough to warrant the classification.
The FBI only considers an incident a mass shooting if it results in at least four fatalities, not including the perpetrator. That threshold excludes some high-profile shootings. John Houser’s July rampage in a Louisiana movie theater, for example, left nine injured and two dead — enough to make national headlines, but not the law enforcement agency’s official mass shooting list. The FBI definition may also have contributed to a tendency among the public to give little attention to multiple-victim shootings taking place in urban settings. Using the FBI’s framework, outbursts of violence that rocked communities this summer in Detroit (10 people shot at a block party) and Philadelphia (11 people shot at a block party) did not qualify as mass shootings.
To keep these incidents from slipping under the radar, organizations like the Mass Shooting Tracker are seeking to redefine what a mass shooting means. The Tracker relies on crowdsourced submissions to record shootings across the United States, and categorizes a mass shooting as at least four people shot, not just killed. In the last year, the Tracker’s more liberal definition has gained significant momentum, earning citations and coverage from the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, and The Guardian, among others.
An October profile of the Tracker in The Trace shows how these dueling definitions have the potential to dramatically shape public perception (emphasis added):
The FBI’s metric has long been used by the media and academics, and according to that definition, last week’s Oregon college shooting is the 32nd mass shooting in the U.S. in 2015. That’s a relatively small number, especially as a subset of the 108,000 people killed or injured by intentional or accidental gunfire each year. But since it’s mass shootings that attract the most public interest, the reigning measure of such incidents could have the effect of underplaying the true extent of the gun violence the country experiences.
Leading the push for an updated criteria is the Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowdsourced website that grew out of the cheeky gun news subreddit /r/GunsAreCool. It defines a mass shooting as one with four or more people hit by bullets in one event, arguing that a shooting “means ‘people shot.’” To the Mass Shooting Tracker, an incident in which four people are wounded, but no one is killed, is still a mass shooting. According to its database, the Umpqua Community College shooting was the 295th mass shooting of the year.Two Redditors Are Changing the Way the Media Counts Mass Shootings
By the Tracker’s definition, the spray of bullets that hit the crowd in New Orleans was just one of five mass shootings in the U.S. this weekend. On Saturday morning, a 28-year-old man was fatally shot and four people — including a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old — were wounded in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, where Freddie Gray lived. Five people were shot at a bar in Newburgh, New York, early Saturday. Five people were wounded in a shooting in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle early Sunday, and that afternoon, four people in their 20s were shot in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. None of those events, of course, met the FBI’s mass shooting criteria.
[Photo: Cheryl Gerber/Getty Images]