Acosta Spreads Misleading Stats About Mass Shootings

Amber Athey | Media and Breaking News Editor

CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted some incredibly misleading statistics about mass shootings on Thursday morning.

In order to commemorate the anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Acosta linked to a Vox article that claims there have been 1,552 mass shootings since then.

The Vox article is probably more useful for narrative-building than accuracy, because it gathers its data from the “Gun Violence Archive,” which uses one of the broadest definitions for mass shootings. The Gun Violence Archive counts any shooting with four or more people shot and injured or killed as a “mass shooting.”

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Richard Pan used the GVA data last year, and Politifact rated their statements about mass shootings “mostly false.”

“GVA uses a purely statistical threshold to define mass shooting based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter,” the Gun Violence Archive explains on their website. “GVA does not parse the definition to remove any subcategory of shooting. To that end we don’t exclude, set apart, caveat, or differentiate victims based upon the circumstances in which they were shot.”

By using this definition, GVA lumps shootings that don’t square with most people’s understanding of what a mass shooting is, such as domestic, gang, and drug-related shootings. For example, GVA would include a gang shootout as a mass shooting, even though not all of the injuries or deaths were inflicted by a single shooter. They would also include a home invasion, even though common understanding is that mass shootings take place in public.

Mother Jones uses a more traditional definition of mass shootings for their research. They define a mass shooting as an event where four or more people have been wounded or killed by gunfire in a public place, excluding robberies or gang shootings.

Their data was last updated in November 2017, and counts 95 mass shootings over the past 35 years. That’s a far cry from Acosta’s claim that there have been over 1500 in just the last five years.

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