USA Today, March 2021
“Two mass shootings in less than a week…” was how CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins introduced her live report about President Biden’s remarks following the recent massacre at a Boulder, CO supermarket. Meanwhile, the CNN website featured a story beneath the attention grabbing headline, “The Colorado attack is the 7th mass shooting in 7 days in the US.”
The stark inconsistency in these two statements about the prevalence of mass shootings is not just a function of different platforms — CNN on air versus CNN online — promoting a mixed message. Discrepancies in how the scope of the problem is characterized can be found at the same news outlet.
According to The New York Times, mass shootings occurred twice in the past week, but then also at the rate of one a day. Of course, these wildly varying assertions were published on separate occasions.
Contradictory data and tallies of shootings
Also, seemingly contradictory tallies are sometimes cited by different journalists from the same outlet. For example, this paper carried the news about two mass shootings in less than a week while previously another reporter wrote on the more mass shootings than days theme.
These inconsistencies boil down to which definition and which data source are used for context. By the definition established decades ago, a mass shooting is the killing of at least four victims from gunfire. Such incidents take place, on average, about two dozen times per year, according to the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University mass killing database (of which I am one of the principals). There has been little change in frequency over the past couple of decades except for a spike up to 33 in 2019.