Why It’s Important to Call Yesterday’s 17-Victim Shooting in Kansas a Mass Shooting

A small town in central Kansas yesterday was devastated by a brutally familiar tragedy, when a gunman armed with an assault weapon opened fire indiscriminately at coworkers and passersby in the factory where he worked, as well as in its parking lot and nearby streets. As of this morning, the shooting claimed the lives of three people and left 14 seriously wounded, 10 of them in critical condition. This attack was by nearly all accounts, and in the plain meaning of the words, a “mass shooting.”

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence was founded by attorneys in the wake of an all too similar assault weapon massacre and provides legal and policy expertise in support of common-sense gun laws that keep us safer and freer from violence. As we uncover more information about yesterday’s shooting, more can and should be said about the irresponsibly weak and senseless laws that allowed a domestic abuser with an extensive criminal history, including crimes involving violence and the illegal use of firearms, to acquire and carry combat-grade weapons on civilian streets.

But as we speak about these tragedies, the scope of our nation’s epidemic of gun violence, and the smart gun laws that can bring us toward a solution, we must also be clear and consistent about what we are talking about. And we must address head-on the bizarre, organized effort by many in the gun lobby to minimize the suffering of shooting victims by arguing that some gun violence just “doesn’t count.”

In two recent articles, PolitiFact.com recited gun lobby talking points to claim that it was “Half True” and “Mostly False” that as of October and December of last year, there had been more mass shootings in this country than calendar days in 2015.

In highlighting the need for stronger gun laws, like the Safety for All ballot initiative before California voters this November, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz both cited this fact. But employing the gun lobby’s preferred definition, PolitiFact asserted that a “mass shooting” only occurs when four or more people are killed by a shooter in the same incident, no matter how many are seriously injured by gunshot wounds alongside the fatalities. Yesterday’s shooting in Kansas would not fit that definition and wouldn’t count according to PolitiFact, because, we pray, 14 of the shooter’s victims who now have bullets in their bodies have managed to cling to life and survive.

The Gun Violence Archive compiles a widely cited tally of mass shootings in this country that counts incidents in which a gunman shoots at least four other human beings in a single event. By this count, there were more mass shootings in this country — 372 — than days in 2015. This fact was credibly cited in news headlines by PolitiFact’s own publishers at the Tampa Bay Times, the PBS Newshour, NPR News and KQED, NBC News and the Today Show, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Columbus Dispatch, BBC, Newsweek, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the Independent, Rolling Stone, Yahoo News, the Huffington Post, Vox, Fusion, and Fox5 News, to name a few.

Yet, PolitiFact’s articles both quoted discredited gun lobbyists who called the Gun Violence Archive’s common-sense numbers “inflate[d],” “extremely broad,” “pseudo-data,” “out of context,” and “calculated to cause confusion.” PolitiFact even quoted one professed “expert” who published a USA Today op-ed just five days after the San Bernardino mass shooting, in which he said, “[W]ithout diminishing the impact of non-lethal attacks . . . why obsess over something that can be relatively minor? . . . Mass slaughters, like last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, are tragedies we witness on television, not real life. In terms of threat to the viewer, it might as well be a movie.”

A grieving community in Kansas today might powerfully disagree.

We call on PolitiFact to issue a retraction for its shameful parroting of an ideological talking point. There is no legal definition of “mass shooting,” and different sources may reasonably use different metrics for different purposes. But it is absolutely fair, accurate, and common sense to call any incident in which a dangerous person with a deadly weapon shoots bullets into the bodies of at least four other human beings a “mass shooting,” whether or not chance and modern medicine may ultimately, and thankfully, save those victims’ lives.

Founded in the wake of the July 1, 1993, assault weapon massacre at 101 California Street in San Francisco that left eight dead and six wounded, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is now the premier resource for legal expertise and information regarding state and federal firearms laws. Learn more at smartgunlaws.org.