Mass Shooting Databases

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Mass Shooting Databases


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


The new era of awareness of mass shootings began in 1999 with the massacre at Columbine High School, in which 13 people were killed and 21 injured. There, of course, have been thousands of mass killings throughout U.S. history, but Columbine stood out for two reasons. First, the killings were carried out by two high school students in their own school, thereby violating a space that we thought was removed from society's wider violence. Second, the shooters had long planned the incident, as the culmination of a twisted narrative of grievance and desolation.

The mass killings continued. In 2007, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred when a Virginia Tech student killed 32 people and wounded 17. 2012 stood out, first, for the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, with 12 killed and 70 injured, and then for the horrific massacre of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This seemingly escalating series of mass shootings sparked intense public scrutiny into their whys, whos, and hows. The media and citizens found that the official public record was deficient, which resulted in private sector initiatives to document these deeply troubling events. (This resembles the origin of officer-involved shooting databases--covered in the March 2015 and April 2016 Database Review--in which sparse information from law enforcement agencies prompted private research projects.)

The Mass Shooting Databases

Mass shootings have been the subject of previous academic and government studies, but with their limited distribution and delayed reporting, they are well behind the curve in today's information environment. They have been supplanted by two newer, faster-moving projects: US Mass Shootings, 1982-2016: Data From Mother Jones' Investigation (motherjones .com/politics/2012/12/mass-shoot ings-mother-jones-full-data) and the Mass Shooting Tracker (mass shootingtracker.org).

But the data is far from settled. For 2015, Mother Jones reported seven mass shootings, while the Mass Shooting Tracker recorded 371. How can there be such a disparity? It comes down to definition. Mother Jones' is narrow: four or more people killed in an "indiscriminate" outburst. The Mass Shooting Tracker has a much broader definition: "We define a mass shooting to be an incident of violence in which 4 or more people are shot." This includes victims who are injured, as well as more incident categories: domestic violence, gang killings, and robberies, etc.

Mother Jones' Mass Shooting Research

Mother Jones (motherjones.com) is a progressive, left-leaning magazine and news organization, named for Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, a social activist in the late-19th and early-20th centimes. It began its mass shooting research in 2012, in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings. Its US Mass Shootings, 19822016 database lists 75 cases as of March 31, 2016. The data is drawn primarily from national and local news media. Records contain the basic elements of the incident--the date, the location, numbers killed, shooter characteristics, a short summary, and links to sources--as well as other pertinent details, including mental health aspects and weapons used. The data is presented in a spreadsheet. In addition to the incident database itself, Mother Jones has published several analytical articles based on its research. These delve into the patterns of mass shootings and the role of weapons, etc.

Mass Shooting Tracker

The Mass Shooting Tracker began as a group on reddit in 2013 (reddit.com/r/GunsAreCool/wiki/ 2013massshootings). Its data is now also presented as a section in the Gun Violence Archive. As described previously, it uses a broad definition of mass shootings that includes victims who are injured as well as killed, and it covers all categories of mass shooting incidents. The database draws primarily on--as do the other mass shooting databases--local and national media reports. …

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