Why are they called “mass shootings?”

Sadly, we are dealing with yet another tragedy caused by a maniac with a gun. Today it was in southwestern Virginia as the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward were senselessly taken by a former colleague. As Americans and the media try to unravel what’s behind today’s horrific acts, I noticed something and those were the words “mass shooting.” Those two words are sadly all-too-common in today’s day, when mass shootings seem to be the norm. According to a Washington Post story published this afternoon, the United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day. Those horrific numbers are for a separate conversation about gun violence and the perpetuation of gun ownership in America, but this is about the media’s portrayal of mass shootings and whether a quality definition exists for heinous acts.

Today’s tragedy took the lives of three people (gunman included), wounding a fourth. In the Washington Post’s article, they cite a subreddit called GunsAreCool (a sarcastic title), which defines a mass shooting, “as any single incident in which at least four people are shot, including the gunman.” The WaPo article goes onto to mention the FBI’s definition, “which requires three or more people to be killed by gunfire.”

Do either of those definitions fit what you consider a “mass shooting?” Without doing the quantitative and qualitative research necessary, it seems as if the term “mass shooting” is applied to any shooting–regardless of the number of victims–covered wall-to-wall by the media. Since we first learned of the senseless acts committed by a madman, media–both online and television–have covered the story incessantly. To me, it seems that when the media decides one particular heinous act committed with a gun demands the nonstop coverage, then–and only then–is the shooting considered a “mass shooting.”

It’s difficult to admit this, and perhaps this is hyperbolic given the nature of today’s events, but it seems that “mass shootings” is media code for “terrorist attack committed by an American on American soil using a gun.” Yes, we generally reserve the term “terrorist attack” committed by Americans when bombs are involved, but at this point, that’s what these “mass shootings” are doing. They terrorize and terrify victims, bystanders, and all those affected directly or indirectly by the attacks. Recent shootings at movie theaters now have you looking around a theater before enjoying a show. Is that different than checking around an airport or a plane post-9/11? We are scared of our movie theaters, our schools, our churches, our malls, our neighborhoods, and almost every place we go. Why? Mass shootings.

Will we finally let go of the numbness we experience following a mass shooting if we correctly identify them as a terrorist attack? Yes, most of the shooters do not have an ideological goal, but based on the testimony of the Charleston shooter and the suicide note left by today’s attacker, both provided plenty of ideological fodder for their twisted, senseless violent actions.

We have a problem in this country when “mass shootings”–or however you want to define them–become the new normal. After 9/11, incredible changes were made to this country to prevent another attack from happening. Whether you agree or disagree with the changes made post-9/11 is beside the point, but we can say that the government has foiled a large number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since that horrible day and we’ve done a far better job protecting the country. Is that too much to ask when it comes to those terrorizing our schools, churches, movie theaters, and homes? Is it too much to ask our country and fellow citizens to do something to protect us?

As we try to determine how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again–which again revolves mostly around the proliferation of guns in America and American culture–we must consider how and why we define certain actions as “mass shootings,” instead of the terroristic actions they are.

Until we find a way to stop this madness, they will continue, unabated. The pain and suffering of today’s events will subside for most Americans, as we leave the victims’ friends, families, and colleagues to grieve and ask why, but the rest of us will continue about our business until our day is interrupted, once again, by the sound of a breaking news alert as we once again learn the names of the victims and the senseless individual responsible for yet another attack. No more movie theaters, schools, churches, malls, homes, streets, cars, or any other location where victims are senselessly gunned down. It must end.

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