We need to define precisely what a mass shooting is. As a starting point. One might claim this is deflection, or marginalizing, or some other less-than-honorable tactic to deviate from the task of enacting a solution, but what this post is about is NOT which solution would be the most or least effective. No, this post is quite the opposite. It’s about finding a solution and taking the necessary critical first step. Anyone who knows anything about negotiation knows that nothing will ever come of it as long as the various sides aren’t speaking the same language.
The political debate about strategies to prevent mass shootings might dominate news coverage in the coming days, but there is no agreement on what “mass shooting” even means.
In this country, in the last 20-ish years, mass shootings have been on the increase. To state the obvious, this is not good. Good people may have differences of opinion regarding which measures would be effective in countering mass shootings, but pretty much no one believes they are a good thing and should continue unabated… and to characterize people on the other side in dehumanizing terms is inherently dishonest and unfair, but I digress…
Anyway, some of the various definitions that I’ve seen, official and unofficial, include…
- A mass shooting involves four or more people injured or killed in a single event at the same time and location.
- Three or more killings in a single incident.
- Some include the shooter if killed, some do not.
- Some include terrorism, or drug deals gone wrong, or gang conflict, or family murder-suicides as “mass shootings”.
- Some include only deaths, some deaths and/or injuries.
- I’ve seen a couple people say as few as two deaths, which is technically legit in a base definitional aspect, but absurdly broad in a contextual meaning, which is what we should be concerned with here.
- Hell, we can’t even agree if they should be called a ‘shooter’ or a ‘killer’.
Some counter that making a big deal about semantics is…
- …meaningless talk, action is what’s needed!
- …one is too many.
- …and the ever-popular always-ridiculous, “Tell that to the people who died.”, emotional deflective claptrap.
- …and so on.
Do you want to help people in the future avoid similar situations, or not? You do? Good. Then don’t play emotional games. Strive to make progress. Take it one step at a time.
First, understand that not all “solutions” apply to all scenarios. That’s why all sides need to agree on semantics, so they can speak the same language at the negotiating table. What, EXACTLY, is an “assault weapon”? As just one example. Don’t be vague. Be precise. Nail it down. Once you’ve cleared that up, you’re one step closer to what resembles a true overall solution.
Here’s my definition, which is close to the CRS’s 2013 definition, and it is largely concerned with the intent of the shooter(s), which fits with what we are actually dealing with here… motive means more than any other single factor… and helps suggest a possible effective countermeasure rather than throwing some easy-button crap against a wall and hoping it will stick.
Radcen’s ‘Mass Shooting’ Definition:
“A ‘mass shooting’ is the attempt by a person or persons to inflict wholesale death and/or injury to large numbers of people who are essentially unknown to the shooter(s) and for whom the shooter(s) have no otherwise emotional attachment to, or grievance, against, and from which the shooter(s) will receive essentially no tangible benefit.”
The number of casualties is actually of lesser relevance. Wholly irrelevant, actually. Not only who are they targeting, but *why* are they targeting them? Terrorism is a different animal because terrorists are targeting groups of people for who they are, a perceived enemy. Terrorists are also more likely to use any convenient weapon, so gun restrictions alone would be shortsighted. Drug dealers and gang bangers are usually targeting specific people and really not interested in hurting people unknown and/or uninvolved. Handguns are usually the weapon of choice, not rifles. A ban on Ar-15s would be pretty much inconsequential. Family murder/suicides are wholly personal, and again prone to use any available weapon, though guns are probably most common. Even a “school shooting” where a guy goes in and kills his ex-wife only might be technically a ‘school shooting’, but does not fit the criteria we have seen in school mass shootings, and as such the solutions to thwart future instances would be entirely different, and should not be categorized the same.
All of the above scenarios need to be addressed, most certainly, but all of these have differing motivations, and as such will have differing solutions. In other words, one size does not fit all. This is why semantics matter.