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What Is A 'Mass Shooting'? Different Groups Give Different Definitions

Lindsey Kilbride
Jacksonville police block off the area near the Jacksonville Landing Sunday.

WJCT News along with other news media used the term “mass shooting” in reporting Sunday’s tragedy at the Jacksonville Landing in which two people were killed and nine others where shot. The gunman also took his own life.

However, there isn’t a unified legal definition in the U.S. as to what constitutes a mass shooting or mass murder.

The Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, which was signed into law by Congress, defines a “mass killing” as resulting in at least three victims, excluding the shooter.

Then in 2015, the Congressional Research Service defined a mass shooting as "a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity."

The Congressional Research Service in turn based its definition on the FBI defining “mass murder” being defined generally as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims were murdered.

However, the crowd-sourced Mass Shooting Tracker put together by quickly added Jacksonville to its list of 2018 mass shootings in the U.S.

Polififact – which looks into the accuracy of statements and claims – found when looking into the issue in 2017 that “our current research indicates the debate over the definition of mass shootings is more unsettled than ever.”

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.