Rep. Schiff claims '16 mass shootings' over holiday using broad definition that counts gang violence and normal disputes

 July 7, 2023

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who has a rather fraught relationship with the truth, made the dubious claim that there were "16 mass shootings" across the country over the holiday weekend, according to Breitbart.

That claim is debatable because it is entirely contingent upon which of several varying definitions of a "mass shooting" is used to place the label on any particular incident of gun violence.

Schiff's dubious claim

In a Wednesday tweet clearly intended to promote more gun control laws, Rep. Schiff (D-CA) wrote, "There were 16 mass shootings this weekend."

"People across this nation shouldn’t have to live in fear of gun violence when they step outside of their homes," the Democratic congressman added. "The longer we value the profits of the gun industry over the lives of our neighbors, the longer we put our communities in danger."

Breitbart noted that Schiff did not provide any additional details about exactly when, where, why, or how the alleged "mass shootings" had occurred.

That matters, though, in determining whether an instance of gun violence is the sort of incident many people envision when they hear the loaded term "mass shooting" -- a lone "active shooter" stalking and shooting multiple innocent victims at random in a public place -- as compared to entirely different incidents involving multiple shooters, gang violence, disputes that escalate to gunfire, or domestic violence in a home.

Different definitions dramatically alter "mass shootings" tally

The problem here, according to the Poynter Institute, is that there is confusion being spread among the public about mass shootings due to different definitions being used by different organizations that have led to wildly disparate counts of how many "mass shootings" have occurred in a given time period.

One particularly loose definition that has come to be favored by Democratic politicians, certain media outlets, and some gun control groups, is the one put forward by the data researchers at the Gun Violence Archive, which defines the term as "an incident in which at least four people are injured or killed, excluding the shooter."

By that organization's broad and indiscriminate count of all shooting incidents in which four or more victims were injured or killed, there has been as many as 361 "mass shootings" thus far in 2023 -- and it seems likely that Rep. Schiff, and the media sources he derived the information from, were using that particular definition.

But that differs from other definitions used by other research organizations, media outlets, and even some gun control groups, which is based off the old FBI definition of a mass shooting, which only counted incidents where four or more victims were killed by a single shooter, and specifically excluded shootings related to gang violence, domestic disputes, or in the commission of other crimes.

And, according to Poynter, by that definition, there have been far, far fewer "mass shootings" this year than the GVA or Schiff would lead the public to believe.

At least 22 "mass shootings" using broad definition favored by Schiff

To be sure, there were unfortunately several "mass shootings" over the holiday weekend, according to ABC News, which directly cited the GVA in reporting at least 22 such incidents that left a combined 20 people dead and at least 126 wounded.

That said, of the several worst incidents for which details were provided, only one of them fits the "active shooter" variety of mass shootings, in which a lone gunman in Philadelphia armed with a rifle, extra magazines, and body armor fired indiscriminately at random people in the street, killing five and wounding several more.

Virtually all of the other incidents that were described -- in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, D.C., Fort Worth, Lansing, Shreveport, and Wichita -- all appeared to have been normal disputes that escalated to gunfire or gang-related shootouts in which some of the "victims" were the shooters themselves in addition to innocent people caught by random stray bullets intended for somebody else.

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