Is the Orlando Shooting Really 'The Worst Mass Shooting' in US History?

By Iaconangelo, David | The Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

Is the Orlando Shooting Really 'The Worst Mass Shooting' in US History?


Iaconangelo, David, The Christian Science Monitor


When the death toll in the massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub became known, media organizations were swift to paint the dimensions of its brutality as unprecedented. With 50 people dead and 53 others wounded, it was consistently characterized as the "worst mass shooting in US history".

But some observers balked at the description, insisting that a longer view of gun violence would turn up bloodier episodes - and in doing so, trace a national problem back to the nation's colonial roots.

One persistent point of reference has been the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, when members of a US Army cavalry unit opened fire on an encampment of Lakota Sioux. An estimated 150 people were killed (although some estimates are as high as 300), and some 51 wounded. Twenty-five US soldiers were among the fatalities.

In the 1921 Tulsa, Okla., race riots, a mob was incited by rumors that a black man had assaulted a white woman. The crowd attacked black Tulsans and destroyed their businesses. Nearly 80 years later, an Oklahoma truth commission concluded that "it would not be unreasonable to estimate 150 to 300 deaths" resulted from the riot.

In one list of the deadliest mass shootings across the globe, The New York Times addressed the question obliquely. In an editor's note clarifying their use of the term, it wrote, "The list of deadliest mass shootings worldwide includes attacks by public mass shooters, not organizational acts of terrorism or genocide."

But criticism prompted review from some corners of the press, including The Los Angeles Times, The Independent in Britain, and Big Think.

No consensus exists on what kind of violence is encompassed by the term "mass shooting." Most official definitions have focused on what constitutes a "mass murder," which refers to the number of dead without specifying the way they were killed. …

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