Further dissecting the "16 mass shootings since Sandy Hook" lie, and providing a better definition of the term

Last night we took apart the claim made by the anti-gun group Americans for Responsible Solutions and a deceptive claim made by Huffington Post that there have been “sixteen mass shootings since Sandy Hook.”


We did it by using their own criteria of “a minimum of four people killed in a single episode and a single location, usually in a public place.”

What we revealed was the following:

  • six were incorrectly classified. They were spree killings, not mass killings.
  • one, in Chicago, appears fictionalized. There was no mass killing in Chicago where five people were killed in a single incident that month.
  • eight were “valid” mass killings with four or more killed, but atypical by Huffington Post’s own definitions, happening all or in part within in private residences, but were not remotely like what most people would consider a mass shooting comparable to something like Columbine or Sandy Hook.
  •  Just one, the Navy Yard shooting committed by Aaron Alexis, meets the Huffington Post standard of a minimum of four killed in a single episode at a single location in a public place.

Of the six teen mass shootings originally claimed, only the Navy Yard shooting of Aaron Alexis fit the classic profile of a mass shooting according to the Huffington Post’s definitions.

But perhaps we need to dig even deeper to the eight “atypical” mass shootings we’ve given them credit for, and ask if they should be included if a mass shooting was not the intent of the shooter going into the event.

Aaron Alexis, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and other infamous mass shooters intended for their crime to be a signature work, a crime of violence with the highest possible body count. This is the common intent of mass shooters. Arguably, without both the intent and the execution of a mass shooting event, one cannot claim that a mass shooting was carried out.


If a mass shooting wasn’t the intention of the murderer, and defies the public expectation of what the term “mass shooting” means, shouldn’t we revisit defining “mass shooting” in a way that makes more sense to the public?

Let’s start with a dissection of the eight atypical mass shootings in the list, and explain why they should perhaps not be included in mass shootings.

South Valley, New Mexico. Griego family shooting
On the night of January 19, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego murdered his mother while she slept, then his brother and two sisters. He then laid in wait for hours, and murdered his pastor father when he returned at 5:00 AM from working at a homeless shelter.

This was a familicide (the killing of a family), and is the most common kind of multiple homicide. It is further considered “atypical” for our purposes because the shooting occurred in a domestic residence, which does not comport with the “usually in a public place” stipulation noted by Huffington Post in the criteria they borrowed from Mother Jones.

Should familial relations and location be factors in a corrected definition of a mass shooting?

Akron, Ohio. Basement shooting
Derrick Brantley and Deshanon Haywood, both 21, executed four people while committing a robbery on April 18. They have been charged with four counts each of aggravated homicide and aggravated robbery. Unlike the classic understanding of a mass shooting where we understand that a mass killing was the intended crime, this was a mass killing that occurred as the apparent result of another criminal act (armed robbery possibly connected to drugs) gone wrong.


Should mass killings committed as the result of another crime be factored into a better definition of a mass shooting?
Federal Way, Washington. Apartment complex killings
Dennis Clark III, 27, murdered his live-in girlfriend to end a relationship marred by domestic violence. He then left their apartment and murdered two men in the apartment building’s parking lot who confronted him as he was apparently trying to leave. Clark’s fourth and final victim was someone attempting to call 911 and report the string of crimes. This was a domestic violence homicide that spun even further out of control as the shooter murdered three people that he felt were trying to stop him.

Like the Akron, OH shooting, this was not a planned mass killing, but one crime that spun out of control.

Manchester, Illinois. Family shooting
Rick Odell Smith murdered five family members while attempting to get to someone who wasn’t home, in what a neighbor says was likely a child custody dispute. This occurred in one apartment, blowing the “usually in public” theory again, and was related to a previous domestic/family issue.

Again, should familial killings be an exclusionary factor in a better definition of what the public commonly understands as a mass shooting? Is a “mass shooting” even the correct term to use, or is it too broad a term to capture the sort of even we’re trying to describe?

Let’s move on.

Waynesville, Indiana. “Meth house” shooting
Four people were killed in a home used to manufacture and deal methamphetamine in a drug deal gone bad.


Once again, this took place within a private residence, and the killings themselves occurred as a result of other crimes in progress.

Should such killings, where a mass murder wasn’t the goal of the shooter, “count” towards those cases where mass murder was the goal of the killer?

Clarksburg, West Virginia. Drug den shooting
Sidney A. Muller went to confront two drug dealers who owed him money, and shot them to death. As he was leaving, a father and son newspaper delivery team were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were gunned down as witnesses. Once again, the killing took place during pre-existing criminal behavior, and a mass shooting was not the goal of the crime.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Family killing
Daniel Livingston Green, a violent mentally ill man, murdered four members of his family in their home because he thought they were keeping him from “true love” with his celebrity crush. Green says he “blacked out” and does not remember the attack. This familial killing wasn’t premeditated.

This was another familicide which also occurred in home instead of in public.

Crab Orchard, Tennessee. Drug deal shooting
Two were arrested in Crab Orchard Tennessee, after four people were found shot to death in a car after an apparent drug deal went bad.

This was yet another instance where murder happened as a result of pre-existing criminal activity, and a mass shooting wasn’t the goal of the crime, but a by-product.
The problem, obviously, is that what Mother Jones and the Huffington Post is attempting to define as a mass shooting doesn’t match up to the public’s perception of how a mass shooting should be defined.


Their definition of “a minimum of four people killed in a single episode and a single location, usually in a public place” is incomplete and too open.

A more accurate definition must also take into account the public’s understanding that the shooter premeditated the shooting of a large number of people as his or her primary goal. The public also seems to have a view that for a mass shooting to “count,” that the victims be in a public place, though their “usually” stipulation is perhaps accurate enough.

Familial killings, while extremely tragic and widespread, aren’t generally viewed through the same prism as the killing of random strangers and even co-workers.

Likewise, killings committed during the commission of another criminal act also tend to be viewed in a category other than that of a mass shooting.

A new and more accurate definition of “mass shooting” must take into account these variables.

Perhaps this new definition should read something more like this.

Mass Shooting: A premeditated killing of four or more people in a single episode at a single location, where the taking of as many lives as possible is the explicit and primary objective of the perpetrator. It usually occurs in public, where the victims are generally chosen at random as targets of opportunity, instead of the targeted attack of specific individuals.

This more complete definition seems to account for most if not all publicly-recognized mass shootings (Texas Bell Tower, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Washington Navy Yard, etc), with far less “wiggle room” for politically dishonest manipulation of the term.


Of the “sixteen mass shootings since Sandy Hook,” stipulated by the Huffington Post, only the Navy Yard shooting meets this criteria.

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