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FINAL POST: Defining, Categorizing, and Understanding Mass Shootings In America


Sadly, the above picture is completely accurate. Mass shootings have never been more prominent in America’s history than they are today. In this year alone, there have been more mass shootings than total number of days (381 so far, to be exact). Even now, in 2015, after years of recurring mass shootings, there is still no set definition of what exactly a mass shooting is. No one has yet to define exactly what aspects make up  mass shootings. All that is really set in stone when it comes to the definition of the subject is that someone needs to shoot and kill at least three other people, which does not include the shooter even if they get killed or commit suicide during the act, with a gun. Apparently the number of victims who are injured during an act but not killed is irrelevant to what defines a mass shooting. Therefore 100 people can get shot and injured in a shooting, but if no one dies it’s not a mass shooting. What? That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

There are many aspects of a mass shooting that add up to make its definition, the most important aspect being that the crime was committed with a gun (obviously). Another important, yet somewhat bizarre quality that defines a mass shooting is the number of deceased, but not injured individuals in the crime. According to the federal government in 2013, “three or more people must die, excluding the shooter” for the crime to be considered a mass murder (Ingraham, 2015). The area in which the shooting takes place also plays a big part in defining a mass shooting. The crime has to take place in a public area in order for it to qualify as a mass shooting. It’s really not that hard to believe that America cannot define what a mass shooting with all these ridiculous qualifications.

What is most difficult about defining a mass shooting is that there are different kinds of them. David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard University, came up with the idea that there are actually three subcategories of mass shootings (Ingraham, 2015). The first of the three categories is gang violence, but we never really see anything on the news or internet about multiple homicide shootouts happening in the ghetto, except for blue guys shooting black guys. Another one of the subcategories is domestic violence, which is basically when a family member goes of their rocker and starts shooting other relatives, usually over substances. The last category is public shootings, which is pretty much self-explanatory. Hemenway’s three category theory seems to be focused around the idea that there is a sort of hierarchy or tier list-like structure when it comes to this specific type of crime.

The main problem with Hemenway’s theory is that he doesn’t take into account the most important aspect of what should define a mass shooting: the motive of the shooter. I almost feel that gang violence and domestic violence aren’t even in the same league as a public shooting due to the motives of each criminal group that commits these acts. You never see or hear of a bunch of gangsters meeting up in some public place to randomly kill people because they’re psychotic or have some radical ideology they’re trying to spread because that is ridiculous. Historically, almost all mass shooters in recent years have committed their acts alone, unless they are committing an act of terrorism but that’s a whole other discussion. These lone gunmen carefully plan out their acts, picking out specific locations and times of day to avoid detection and for max casualties (Frances, 2014). This is why it’s hard to even consider putting domestic and gang violence with public shootings as subcategories of mass shootings, the motives are too different. Another reason why Hemenway’s subcategorization theory (as I call it) is a hard sell is because domestic and gang violence can be predicted and deterred to an extent, unlike psychopaths like James Holmes and Dylann Roof. After being arrested, James Holmes (Aurora shooter) was asked why he chose the theater of all places, he replied saying he thought about choosing an airport. When the officer asked Holmes why he didn’t pick the airport, Holmes responded “because that would be an act of terrorism. Terrorism isn’t the message. The message is, there is no message” (O’Neill, 2015).

In conclusion, we need to better our understanding of what exactly a mass shooting is and what defines them in order to be thinking about any possible solutions. Something that could help people grasp a better understanding of the subject is an implementation of something like Hemenway’s subcategorization idea. The criminal justice system could use the “mass shooting hierarchy” to determine how harsh of a punishment to give shooters of different categories. For example, the category of mass shooting that would receive the harshest punishment would be a premeditated one that the shooter is using to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is essentially an act of terrorism and should receive the harshest punishment. The mass shooting hierarchy is a pretty confusing concept to wrap your head around, but could if implemented correctly.


  1. PLEASE, what defines the term “Mass Shooting”?
  2. Should there really be subcategories of mass shootings? Does it work?
  3. What are some plausible solutions for deterring mass shootings and stopping the exponential growth rate of them WITHOUT mentioning the 2nd Amendment?


Frances, A. (2014, May 30). The Mind Of The Mass Murderer. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Ingraham, C. (2015, December 3). What makes a ‘mass shooting’ in America. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from

Lafraniere, S., Cohen, S., & Oppel, R. (2015, December 2). How Often Do Mass Shootings Occur? On Average, Every Day, Records Show. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Mass Shooting Tracker. (2015, December 7). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

O’Neill, A. (2015, August 27). James Holmes formally sentenced to life plus 3,318 years – Retrieved December 15, 2015, from

Palazzolo, J., & Flynn, A. (2015, October 3). U.S. Leads World in Mass Shootings. Retrieved December 15, 2015, from