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There’s no question it was a massacre: A lone gunman perched high in a hotel suite killed 59 people, including a Wisconsin native, who had gathered for an outdoor country music concert. More than 500 people were injured.
But have there really been 273 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2017, as the Wisconsin Democrat says?
What a ‘mass shooting’ is
SFGate.com, which is associated with the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that on the morning after the Las Vegas incident, many news media and social media users were calling it the 273rd mass shooting of the year.
But the actual number depends on the source being cited.
Here’s a look at two counts as of Oct. 3, 2017 that reveal two extremes:
Mass shooting definition
Count of 2017 mass shootings
Gun Violence Archive, nonprofit organization
Mother Jones, liberal magazine
Baldwin was relying on the Gun Violence Archive figure, her campaign told us. (The first-term senator is up for re-election in 2018.)
For an idea of how broadly the archive views mass shootings, here are the circumstances of the two incidents that occurred before the Las Vegas shooting, according to news reports: A shooting in Memphis, Tenn., was believed to be the result of someone bringing a gun to a fight. A shooting in Lawrence, Kan., occurred in a street during a fight involving a number of people.
There are other definitions of mass shootings, as well, including some that have produced much lower counts.
The non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety -- counting incidents in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter -- said there were 156 mass shootings from 2009 through 2016. That’s an average of 19.5 per year.
The Washington Post counted 131 events in which four or more people were killed by a lone shooter (or two shooters in three cases), dating back to the University of Texas tower killings in 1966. That’s an average of less than three mass shootings per year. The Post didn’t count gang killings, shootings that began as other crimes such as robberies, and killings that involved only the shooter’s family.
The point is: There is no universally accepted definition of mass shooting.
Indeed, we’ve run into this before.
Almost exactly two years before Baldwin made her claim, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., said that at that point in 2015 there had been 294 mass shootings. That number also came from the Gun Violence Archive.
PolitiFact Florida rated her statement Half True, saying she relied on an overly broad definition of what most people would consider a mass shooting, counting people shot in bar fights along with victims of school shootings.
Baldwin says the Las Vegas shooting was the "273rd mass shooting" in the United States so far in 2017.
She cites a source that arrived at that figure using a very broad definition of mass shooting. Other sources use narrower definitions that yield much lower counts.
For a statement that is partially accurate but takes things out of context, our rating is Half True.
Note: This item was changed on Oct. 5, 2017 to indicate that, beginning in 2013, Mother Jones changed its definition of mass shooting to three or more victims, rather than four. This change does not affect the rating.
Tammy Baldwin, news release, Oct. 3, 2017
Email, Tammy Baldwin campaign spokeswoman Gillian Drummond, Oct. 3, 2017
SFGate.com, "How many mass shootings have there really been in 2017? It depends on the source," Oct. 2, 2017
Mother Jones, "US Mass Shootings, 1982-2017: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation," Oct. 2, 2017
PolitiFact Florida, "Wasserman Schultz claims 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone," Oct. 8, 2015
Everytown for Gun Safety, "Mass Shootings in the United States: 2009-2016," April 11, 2017
Washington Post, "The math of mass shootings," Oct. 3, 2017
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