Mass-Shooting Inflation: A Real Problem Is Being Clouded by Completely Inaccurate Figures

Another day, another mass shooting. Except — while we all mourn together for the victims of the very real Michigan State University tragedy — not exactly.

Immediately after the horrific February 13 attack on MSU’s East Lansing campus by armed lunatic Anthony McRae, who killed three students and critically wounded five others, the internet began to buzz with comments like this one, a tweet from political writer Jeff Tiedrich that went viral: “[expletive], 67 mass shootings in the first 45 days of 2023! America’s door problem [a reference to the jammed door that contributed to the Uvalde, Texas, tragedy] is out of control.” Far more serious people — Tiedrich runs a blog called the “Smirking Chimp” — have made virtually identical comments in the wake of this disaster and others. Robert Reich, secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, posted the following:

Responses to that one, which as of Wednesday had drawn more than 70,000 likes, reached into the thousands and often approached the hysterical, with some quite prominent figures blaming the death toll on everything from inner-city “Black” and “Democratic” crime to alleged GOP softness regarding the purchase of AR-15s and other rifles. However, before we debate any of that — and, as a gun-totin’ right-leaning black guy, I am certainly willing to do so — it is critical to point out a foundational problem with Reich’s data. There were not 647 mass shootings in 2022.

For that matter, there were not 247 mass shootings in 2014. In fact, there have not been 647 — or 247 — recorded mass shootings in the United States of America across the entire modern era. After every legitimately deplorable gunfire incident, the contemporary political Left uses exaggerated figures arrived at through statistical trickery to terrify the populace.

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 phenomenon.

Even 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. So, where does the “647 just last year” figure come from? Essentially, someone made it up. So far as I can tell from the links that followed Reich’s tweet, his figures come from Gun Violence Archive (GVA), an activist group — though it denies being such — that defines a mass shooting “based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter.”

Does this mean that GVA would define an incident as a mass shooting — methodologically on par with Columbine High School — if no one was killed in it at all? Well, yes: “Equal importance is given to the counting of those injured as well as killed in a mass shooting incident.” Would incidents of gang violence, or mob hits — morally terrible to be sure, but posing little risk to anyone not living a particular death-style — be included in the database? In fact, yeah: “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.”

Simply put, a figure of 647 annual mass shootings represents literally every situation in the United States where more than two or three people were shot with a gun, fatally or not. Something to keep in mind.

Now, with all that said, I went to a Big Ten school (Illinois) myself, and saw friends shed tears for Michigan State. Obviously, how to prevent those real mass shootings that occur — three times so far this year, at MSU, in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and at a dance studio in Monterey Park, Calif. — is a real question.

And the answer is tricky. Contra rather constant mainstream-media propaganda, mass shooters do not fit any political or ethnic profile that could potentially be targeted. The Michigan State gunman was a 43-year-old African-American “mama’s boy,” and only about half of those in the Mother Jones database (73 of 141) are identified as Caucasians/whites. (Interestingly, in a twist that liberal adopters of the newer mass-shooting definition seem not to have noticed — and that its few alt-right advocates most definitely are aware of — probably 75 percent of mass shooters would be black or Latino by a broader “shot or killed” standard.) We’re also not actually going to ban all guns or even all long guns. That would frankly be an insane response — and contrivances other than firearms can kill in bulk as well. While this story was lightly covered, a maniac driving a U-Haul panel truck in New York City ran over and killed a delivery worker and injured eight other people on the same day that the MSU attack took place.

One solution, here as in so many other areas, might simply be to actually enforce the laws we already have on the books. There are in fact four characteristics that almost all mass killers do seem to share: being mentally ill, under 50, male (135 of the 140 shooters), and known extensively to the FBI or local law enforcement. The MSU shooter, for example, pled guilty as recently as 2019 to a fairly serious firearm charge (concealed carry of a deadly weapon without a permit), was allowed to plead this down to a misdemeanor, and never served a day in jail. He also, critically, avoided the felony conviction that would have prevented him from buying guns in the future. The panel-van killer also had an extensive criminal history, including stabbing his own brother at least once — for which offense he served some Nevada time before being released ahead of schedule.

Perhaps he should not have been. In addition to simply keeping worthy guests like this inside the Grey Bar Hotel, improved care of the mentally ill (including involuntary incarceration) also has a role to play in improving safety. Both the MSU shooter and the New York City U-Haul driver appear to be insane in the clinical sense of this term — the driver ranted to police about the coming of “judgment day” and the problem of “invisible objects” telling him to commit murder — and simply did not belong on the streets.

What else to do? While we work toward sweeping solutions such as those just clumsily outlined, there is more than a little to be said for thoughts and prayers.

Reporting from National Review.