How the mainstream media misleads the public about the frequency of mass shootings

It’s deeply dishonest to alarm Americans with essentially false data.

“There have been more mass shootings than days in 2023.” — ABC News

“More mass shootings in U.S. than days in 2023 so far.” — Axios

“There have been nearly 70 mass shootings so far this year.” — Washington Post

This is just a small sampling of recent mainstream media headlines warning of an unimaginable number of mass shootings in our country. This coverage is seized upon by anti-gun activists to push their gun control agenda.

There’s just one problem: The statistics they’re citing are deeply misleading.

They all come from one source: The Gun Violence Archive. When you or I think of a “mass shooting,” we imagine Parkland, Columbine, Las Vegas, or another such high-profile atrocity where a gunman killed many people at random. However, the Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any instance where 4 people are shot—not killed.

That’s right: They’re dubbing incidents where no one died as “mass shootings.” To call that a misleading statistical sleight-of-hand is an understatement. They’re also including gang violence. While that’s undoubtedly a serious problem, it is also undoubtedly not what most Americans think of when they define a “mass shooting.”

As Wilfred Reilly explained for National Review, the Gun Violence Archive’s definition is completely untethered from the actual definition of a “mass shooting” traditionally used in criminal and government statistics:

“For basically all of modern history, a mass shooting has had a rather simple definition: a gunman killing multiple people in a public place. Mother Jones, hardly a conservative outlet, describes the standard — per the FBI and most top criminologists — as ‘a single attack in a public place in which four or more victims were killed.’ President Barack Obama revised the standard somewhat in 2013, when he ordered a government investigation into U.S. mass shootings, lowering the cutoff to ‘three or more victims killed’ and causing a slight uptick in recorded incidents. However, both definitions ‘required death’ and were very specifically structured to exclude domestic murder/suicides, gang and Mafia hits, and the like, to focus on a single terrifying event. By the Obama-era definition, there have been exactly 140 true American mass shootings since the 1980s, according to a comprehensive spreadsheet on the Jones website.”

Of course, even one mass shooting is a tragedy. We can and should have a robust debate over gun violence in America and the best public safety policies to prevent them. But it’s deeply dishonest to alarm Americans with essentially false data to scare them into siding with one side of the debate.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.