08/21/2019 — Atlanta, Georgia — A Clark Atlanta University Police officer keeps an eye out as students socialize near the Clark Atlanta University student center on the main campus in Atlanta, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Tuesday night a shooting took place on the promenade, an area near the library, injuring 2 Clark Atlanta University students and 2 Spelman College students. The students did not face any life threatening injuries and were treated at Grady Memorial hospital for their wounds. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

What defines a mass shooting? Depends who you ask

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.

Three Clark Atlanta University police walk through the campus near where shooting reportedly broke out during a party on the steps of the Atlanta University Center early Wednesday morning injuring several students on the first day of classes in Atlanta, GA on August 21st, 2019. (Photo by Phil Skinner / For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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.

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