What is a “Mass Shooting” and Who Commits Them?

The Mass Shooting Tracker defines a mass shooting as “an incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree.”

The FBI definition of “mass murder” is three or more people murdered in one event. The FBI doesn’t have a definition for “mass shooting.” You have to actually die for the FBI to take notice of you.

As of this writing, of 75 mass shootings in 2019, where the race of the perpetrator is known, 22 were white, 39 were black, 8 were Latino, 3 were Asian, 2 were American Indian and 1 was Arab.

Many of the 2019 mass shootings are currently unsolved, thus the race of the shooters is not known, but they often took place in black areas and claimed black victims.

Mass shootings of black citizens is not generally considered newsworthy, possibly because media have written inner cities off as unsalvageable, so what happens there is of no interest; or possibly because these cases don’t fit the preferred narrative of mass shootings being the exclusive province of white males.

El Paso is the worst mass murder (22 deaths) in the U.S. in 2019. Second worst: DeWayne Craddock, a black man, murdered 13 co-workers in Virginia Beach, VA. Relatively speaking, how much more coverage did El Paso get? Ten times as much? 100 times? I know it was a lot.

El Paso fits a narrative; Virginia Beach doesn’t.

In May of this year, a Detroit man named Deroy Robinson murdered three people: two gay men and a transgender woman.

Because this crime hits not one but two media hot buttons — gun violence and homophobia — if not for the fact that Robinson is not white, it should have been a national topic for weeks, and then been adapted into a movie, a play and a miniseries.

As it is, you’ve probably never heard of Deroy Robinson.

TL;DR: Mass shootings happen every day but they largely go unreported. With more than four months left in 2019, there have already been 320 mass shootings (per Mass Shooting Tracker). White males are not the only perpetrators, and in fact are are not even close to being the majority of perpetrators.

Even in cases of actual mass murder, as in the Craddock and Robinson cases, the volume of news coverage seems to be much lower for non-white shooters.

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