What is a “Mass Shooting”?

The U.S. Code Title 28 §530C(b)(M)(i)(I) defines a mass killing as “3 or more killings in a single incident”. However, this is primarily to authorize special funding to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these cases. The FBI has no definitive answer for what a “mass shooting” is, but it is commonly accepted that a mass shooting involves four or more victims.

However, neither of these definitions necessarily match the shooting events in public spaces often reported on national and international news. If a drug deal goes bad and at least four people involved get shot and killed, then this is technically a mass shooting. Additionally, if there is a murder-suicide where someone shoots and kills three family members and themselves in a home, this is a mass shooting. While tragic, the above scenarios rarely put innocent bystanders at risk of being killed or injured.

There are some cases where a targeted shooting could put innocent people at risk. Such as a gang-related shooting where a particular rival gang member or members is/are shot at while in a public place, such as a nightclub or concert venue, or even just on the street. Also, a domestic violence shooting could result in someone going out of their home to shoot a partner, and other people not involved may get caught in the crossfire. These are also tragic circumstances, but not nearly publicized as the “Active Shooter” incidents.

An “Active Shooter” scenario is when someone goes on a rampage targeting innocent people. This could be in a school, shopping mall, grocery store, office building, etc. These types of shootings are particularly devastating to a community, and to the nation, because it makes people feel unsafe doing things they would do on a regular basis. Criminals, such as gang members and drug dealers, can reasonably expect that their actions could result in violent death or injury. Domestic abuse typically does not start out with a desire to kill, it is a prolonged cycle of abuse that can end up with people being killed. But the fact that you could just go out for a day of shopping at your local grocery store and end up fighting to stay alive is terrifying.

Therefore, different types of shootings can temper some people’s perception of the crime. While a shootout in a motel room that leaves five drug dealers dead is a loss of life, you can tell yourself that “I’m not a drug dealer so that is unlikely to happen to me”. Furthermore, a motel that drug dealers would be dealing out of is likely not the type of place you would be taking your family to on a vacation. But parents with children in school are far more likely to take issue with a school shooting, as this could easily affect them.

My reason for making these definitions clear is that whenever there is a “mass shooting” the issue of gun control is renewed. However, gun control is not the answer. Nearly every “Active Shooter” scenario has had warning signs from the shooter that could have prevented the tragedy. With domestic violence, a hammer, fist, kitchen knife, pillow, or rope can kill just as effectively as a gun. In fact, in the case of domestic violence, a gun may be the only tool a woman as to effectively balance the disparity of force between herself from a murderous husband.

Ultimately, “Red Flag”1 laws, counseling, youth outreach programs, and medication will go significantly further in reducing gun violence than any gun control law will. Also, while unpopular among many (mostly conservative) gun-enthusiasts, universal background checks and banning of private sales would also be significantly more effective than a blanket “this is banned” gun control bill. I’m sure that all gun-enthusiasts agree that, despite our political beliefs, a background check on, for example, buying an AR-15 is much better than having all AR-15s unilaterally banned.


1. I believe there should be a defined and comprehensive appeal process for any Red Flag law. For instance, a gun owner should not have to worry about rights being infringed because a bitter ex-spouse fabricates a claim out of spite.