It’s a term used almost daily, often in media reports: Mass shooting.
So what does it mean? It depends who you ask. Law enforcement, academic researchers and the general public all have their own definitions of a mass shooting. But there is no single one that is universally agreed upon, experts say.
Late Tuesday night, four college students were shot while attending a block party on the Clark Atlanta University campus in Atlanta, according to police. All survived their injuries and the search continued Wednesday for the gunman. Because four were injured, the incident counts as a mass shooting, according to a Georgia State University associate professor.
“We tend to focus on the much larger scale incidents,” Dr. Mark Reed, who teaches criminal justice, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But he said, generally speaking, four victims qualifies.
Many people also overlook crimes when the shooter and victims know each other, such as family members, when discussing mass shootings, he said.
Defining what is a mass shooting depends on several components, Reed said, including the number of victims, locations and incidents. Additionally, the time between or after the shootings or killings — sometimes called the cooling-off period — is a factor in how a crime is defined.
A mass shooting differs from a shooting spree, for example, because a spree involves at least two locations, Reed said.
The idea is that they’re going to multiple locations and often times targeting lots of different people,” he said.
The FBI does not define mass shooting and relies on the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 for its definition of a mass killing, according to an Atlanta spokesman. That law defines “mass killings” as three or more people killed in a single incident.
The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit website that tracks gun violence, bases its data on shootings that injure or kill four or more people, not including the gunman.
“GVA believes that equal importance is given to the counting of those injured as well as killed in a mass shooting incident,” the website states.
Since Jan. 13, the Georgia has had 13 mass shootings, including six in Atlanta, according to the GVA list of shootings.
The more recent ones include a June 27 incident where seven people were injured in an apparent drive-by shooting near Ponce City Market. Investigators believe the incident was gang-related.
The next day, seven others were injured in a separate drive-by shooting, this time in Southwest Atlanta, according to Atlanta police.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.