My ability to even broke sometime Thursday. (Hey. I’m a white girl. Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Uggs, and can’t-even.) What caused the breakdown of my to-even ability?

My Facebook feed full of reposted articles screaming things like “Over 350 mass shootings so far this year!” and “More mass shootings than sunrises this year!” That’s what.

All of which derived their “statistics” from one source: Reddit.

Yes, that wretched hive of scum and villainy. Which made news earlier this year for, among other things, banning a subreddit devoted to vilifying people of size and firing the coordinator of its popular “Ask Me Anything” feature.

Seems that there is an anti-gun subreddit, /r/GunsAreCool, devoted to collecting and disseminating information about gun incidents. Its moderators created a separate website, Mass Shooting Tracker, after /r/GunsAreCool was “brigaded” by gun rights supporters. The Mass Shooting Tracker defines a “mass shooting” as any incident, anywhere, in which at least four people are shot, but not necessarily killed. (Including the shooter{s}.) The Mass Shooting Tracker claims that Wednesday’s horror in San Bernardino, California, was the “355th” mass shooting in the United States in 2015. According to Mother Jones’ Mark Follman, writing in the New York Times yesterday:

It’s not clear why the Redditors use this much broader criteria. The founder of the “shooting tracker” project, who currently goes by the handle “Billy Speed,” told me it was his choice: “Three years ago I decided, all by myself, to change the United States’ definition of mass shooting.” It’s also not clear how many of those stories — many of them from local outlets, including scant detail — are accurate.

This, of course, differs from the definitions used by the FBI and by Mother Jones‘ well known mass shooting tracker. The FBI uses the term “mass killing,” to mean an incident in which at least three (four until 2013) people, not including the perpetrators(s), are killed in a single incident. Mother Jones defines a mass shooting thusly:

  • The attack must have occurred essentially in a single incident, in a public place;
  • We excluded crimes of armed robbery, gang violence, or domestic violence in a home, focusing on cases in which the motive appeared to be indiscriminate mass murder;
  • The killer, in accordance with the FBI criterion, had to have taken the lives of at least four people.

Using the FBI’s criteria, there have been five mass killings in 2015 involving firearms: San Bernardino (12/2/2015, 14 deaths), Colorado Springs (11/28/2015, 3 deaths), Roseburg, OR (10/1/15, 9 deaths), Chattanooga, TN (7/16/15, 5 deaths), Charleston, SC (6/18/15, 9 deaths). Using Mother Jones‘ criteria, there have been four mass shootings (the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting would not count as Mother Jones uses 4 deaths in its criteria).

355 mass shootings? Five? Four? Some claim that it doesn’t matter if there have been 355 or four, as even four are too many. Some claim that it doesn’t matter because we need to know about all deaths involving firearms, regardless whether they are a rampage shooting/publicity murder in a public place, an abusive husband murdering his wife and children just as she is getting ready to divorce him, or gang warfare in the inner city.

Maybe so, maybe not.

I believe definitions matter.

I believe definitions matter because I believe how we talk about problems matters. “355 mass shootings in 2015” sounds like a middle-class white female is at significant risk of a Sandy Hook- or San Bernardino-type rampage shooting/publicity murder while she sits at Starbucks nursing her Holiday Spice Flat White, when the reality is that the risk of being shot in a rampage shooting/ publicity murder is roughly the same as the risk of being struck by lightning.

I believe definitions matter because I believe root cause matters. “355 mass shootings in 2015” doesn’t differentiate among reasons for violence. There is a vast gulf in root cause between a rampage shooting/publicity murder and gang violence. There is a vast gulf in root cause between a domestic violence murder-suicide and a lonely, depressed, desperate person taking his own life. There is a vast gulf in root cause between a Sandy Hook- or Columbine-style school shooting and a drug deal gone wrong on a college campus.

If we lump all “mass shootings” under the same umbrella, we fail to acknowledge root causes.

If we fail to acknowledge root causes, we fail to tackle the causes of violence.

If we fail to tackle the causes of violence, there will be more “mass shootings.”

Of whatever definition.

I can’t even.