Even Our Definition Of 'Mass Shooting' Is Inadequate

The headlines today are about a mass shooting, this time in Texas, the state where “mass” shootings first began when Charles Whitman went up to the top of the University of Texas tower and killed or wounded nearly 50 people in 1966. That was then and this is now, and now is a 26-year-old who lived about 35 miles from the church where he killed 26 members of the Baptist congregation and wounded at least 20 more. Reports are still sketchy, but the shooter may have been connected in some way to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs insofar as his in-laws evidently attended services at that church from time to time.

Within minutes after the initial somewhat garbled reports, the media was referring to this event in a manner which only confused things more. By calling it a “mass” shooting, the incident was then immediately added to the more than 300 shootings which, according to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), have already produced more than 2,000 killed and injured this year. The GVA defines a mass shooting as any use of a gun to produce four or more injured victims dead or alive; the FBI says a mass shooting only occurs when four or more persons, including the shooter, end up dead. Take your pick.

Most mass shootings grow out of domestic disputes – the pissed-off ex-husband shows up uninvited to a family birthday for his wife. He’s told to leave, some words are exchanged, you know what happens next. In September, again in Texas, a 27-year-old girl who had recently filed for divorce was shot and killed by her ex-spouse along with seven other friends who were sitting in her living room watching (what else in Texas?) the NFL.

What happened yesterday in Sutherland Springs, however, wasn’t just another mass shooting with a larger count of wounded and dead. It was a peculiarly American phenomenon I call a “rampage” shooting, which seem to keep happening on a fairly regular basis over the last five years. In fact, going back to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, there have been eight of these rampage killing events adding up to 200 dead.

Because most mass shootings occur within a domestic context, the shooter usually knows everyone who gets shot. Rampage shootings, on the other hand, take place at a location well known to the shooter, but what’s important is not the identity of the victims, but whether there are enough people crowded into one space to make it easy for the human toll to quickly mount. The shooter sometimes fires hundreds of rounds, which takes just a few minutes if he’s armed with an AR. The event is planned well in advance – weeks, months, years – and often the shooter ends the rampage by trying to escape. You can get a better sense of this profile by reading Louis Klaveras’ Rampage Nation or my book on Sandy Hook.

Rampage shootings aren’t going to stop when everyone is armed with a concealed gun. In a small town in south Texas, I don’t believe that the only other person with a gun was standing outside the church.  And don’t think I’m being at all critical of anyone in the congregation who might have been armed and didn’t yank out a piece in self-defense. When gun shots from a high-powered rifle go off without warning, everyone except highly-trained law enforcement will hit the floor.

Trump was absolutely correct when he said that the shooter was a “very deranged individual.” This is exactly what he said after the Las Vegas rampage – he’s got the script down pat.  But let’s not put the cart before the horse Donald – anyone who uses a gun for any purpose, including taking a pot-shot at Bambi, is just exercising his God-given, 2nd-Amendment “rights.” And we’re not about to rewrite the Constitution just because someone walked into a gun shop, bought a gun and literally annihilated the life of an entire town. It’s not the gun, remember? Never the gun.