I have just sent the following email to Steve Lopez at the L.A. Times:
I am writing to correct an error in your December 3 column, in which you said:
The San Bernardino massacre was the 355th multiple-death shooting in the country this year. Every incident is different — the narratives cover everything from personal grudges to the many cracks in the mental healthcare system.
And every incident is the same — innocent people die for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You have (I assume inadvertently) exaggerated the number of multiple-death shootings more than threefold. The true number of shootings in the U.S. in 2015 with two or more victims is 101, not 355. You are citing a statistic that relates to “mass shootings” and not “mass killings.”
As Ian Tuttle explains in National Review:
On Wednesday, as police continued the hunt for the murderers of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., mainstream media outlets noted with alarm that “mass shootings” were outpacing the calendar. San Bernardino’s massacre was the 355th “mass shooting” — in 336 days.
The source of the much-publicized data is the “Mass Shooting Tracker” at shootingtracker.com, a crowdsourced page that defines a “mass shooting” as any in which “four or more people are shot in one event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Victims might include the gunman; the data is based on news reports.
. . . .
It may be for this reason, among others, that the FBI does not define “mass shootings,” only “mass killings.” The latter are those incidents with at least three dead, a metric based on the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, which passed into law in 2013 and grants the U.S. attorney general authority to aid in the investigation of “mass killings and attempted mass killings at the request of an appropriate law enforcement official of a state or political subdivision.” Under this definition, there have been 67 “mass killings” this year.
So: while the number you cite has been bandied about by your fellow travelers in Big Media, it does not refer to mass killings, but rather “mass shootings.” As Mr. Tuttle explains, the 355 number refers to shootings “four or more people are shot in one event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” That’s “shootings” and not “killings.”
But please: don’t take the word of some right-winger at National Review (that’s Tuttle), or some blogger who mocks the L.A. Times on a regular basis (that’s me!). Check the numbers for yourself. The mass shooting tracker that you guys in Big Media cite for the 355 number is here. It breaks down the data, so you can see how many people were killed and wounded in each event. As Mr. Tuttle says, the true number of mass killings in 2015 (defined as three or more killings) is 67. If you want to call shootings with two victims “multiple-death shootings” — which stretches the definition of “multiple,” but I’ll be a sport and let that go — then you can add another 34 more shootings to the total.
But any way you slice it, the number of shootings in which two or more people were killed is 101. Not 335.
I’m not saying that’s great, mind you. Every multiple-death shooting is one too many. People can honestly debate what to do about it. But as we have that debate, we need to get the facts right, as I’m sure you agree.
Could you please shoot me a quick note once you have had the chance to review this, and let me know when your readers can expect a correction? Thanks for your time.
P.S. I got an “out of office” auto-reply. He’s gone until December 7.
UPDATE: I just got this note from Mr. Lopez:
i will take it up with editors.
I appreciate that quick response, and I just told him so.