Numbers of Shootings in the USA—Why Does Everyone Reference Different Numbers

No matter who is citing the stats, it seems they have different numbers on the actual number of mass shootings per year. I think we all know that politicians are unscrupulous in their attempts to convince you of something, even if it's contrary to what you see with your very eyes. The media organizations are supposed to push back against this and keep them in check. Sadly, the media gave up this role, now focusing on making money through advertising and entertainment.

active shooter training

Confusing and Conflicting Numbers —

Last week, the FBI released a summary of the data they collected on all the “active shootings” in 2021. I posted the FBI data and noted that we shouldn't make large conclusions based on one year's worth of data. However, there are still some things we can take away from the data.

You're likely to see headlines citing the data from both pro-freedom and anti-gun points of view. How can supposedly objective data support such opposing points of view? There are many reasons, but one is conflation and deception because of the lack of agreed upon terms and definitions.

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation on a topic, when someone in authority continually says idiotic things like a “Glock is a weapon of war,” a 9mm round is “high-caliber” and “blows out someone's lung” or the many lies about the Second Amendment and bill of rights.

An example of how playing loose with the terms “mass shooting” and “active shooter” can mislead and influence an emotional reaction.

This passes as a ‘conversation' about gun safety?

Defining Active Shooter Incident vs. Mass Shooting  —

In the recent press release, the FBI recorded 61 active shooter incidents, or about 5 per month, for the year 2021.

We need to understand the criteria the FBI uses to differentiate an active shooter from a mass shooting incident.

The FBI defines an active shooter as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. Implicit in this definition is the shooter’s use of a firearm. The active aspect of the definition inherently implies the ongoing nature of an incident, and thus the potential for the response to affect the outcome, whereas a mass killing is defined as three or more killings in a single incident.

An event where someone murders their 4 family members would be a mass killing by the FBI's definition. The FBI doesn't distinguish between mass killing and mass shooting. The definition above of an active shooter captures events such as the most recent school, church, or subway shootings.

Looking at the Numbers, Active Shooter Incident vs. Mass Shootings —

So if the FBI doesn't distinguish between mass killings and mass shootings, where do the statistics for mass shootings come from? When someone makes the claim that America has more mass shootings that any other industrialized country, they are likely are pulling numbers from the organization “Gun Violence Archive” (GVA). The GVA reported 692 mass shootings in 2021.

podcast steven willeford stopped a mass shooting

Remember Steven Willeford? Here his story when we spoke to us on the Concealed Carry Podcast.

We would expect the number of mass shootings to be higher than active shooter incidents, but 61 to 692 seems really high. The discrepancy has to do with the GVA's method of calculating mass shootings. Here is what the GVA counts as a mass shooting incident:

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. 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.
GVA believes that equal importance is given to the counting of those injured as well as killed in a mass shooting incident.

Here is an incident where a boyfriend shot 4 people when they intervened to stop him from beating her.

In this incident, a gang member shot and killed another gang member, and injured 4 others gang members in retaliation.

Both incidents get tallied as mass shootings per GVA.

Conflating of Terms and Numbers —

Now I'm not saying these types of incidents don't matter. The problem is media and politicians are conflating the numbers of mass shootings with active shooter incidents. So, when a tragedy like the shooting in Uvalde occurs, they site the GVA's numbers. The takeaway, mass shootings like this happen about 57.6 times a month. That just isn't factually true.

Murder should disturb us. It is evil and horrific, no matter the reason. But not all killing is murder, and sometimes an evil person dies, because a person intervenes to stop them from killing others. Here is a recent story in which a woman shot and killed a man who fired an AR-15 into a crowd of people attending a party, after people asked him not to drive so fast through the apartment parking lot.

link to comparison of insurance companies

To make the problem worse, media and politicians conflate the term “gun violence” with mass shooting, and active shooting incidents. The above incident gets reported as “yet another example of gun violence.” Yes, someone committed an act of violence using a gun. But these incidents get counted in numbers used to justify taking guns away from, or making it harder for the law-abiding to own them. This story is as much of a reason NOT to regulate guns as it is a reason TO regulate guns further.

Downplaying Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) —

The GVA downplays defensive gun uses as a counter to the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” argument. This helps assertion that people use guns criminally and negligently more often than they do to protect lives, which is false.

In 2021, GVA tallied only 1,278 DGUs. Multiple studies place the number of annual DGUs as little as 55,000 to as high as 3 million. Even if we take the very lowest estimate, people used guns to defend life 10,000 times more than every gun-related death in 2021 (45,020) which includes not just murder, but suicides and accidents.

shooting a Fully-semi auto AR

This military “expert” on the AR-15 explained how the “fully-semi-automatic” nature of the AR-15 makes it suitable only for combat. Even though not a single military in the world uses the AR-15, and yeah “fully-semi-automatic” is a made up thing.

To be fair to the GVA, not all DGUs make it to the news, but most all murders and accidental shooting deaths do. Not all DGUs get reported to police. So many DGUs likely go unnoticed and therefore the GVA can't count them. So what does the GVA do to account for unreported DGUs? Nothing actually:

There are sometimes questions about Defensive Gun Uses which are not reported to police. GVA can ONLY list incidents which can be verified. Our policies do not take into account stories not reported, “I can't believe this happened to me” scenarios or extrapolations from surveys. Our position is that if an incident is significant enough that a responsible gun owner fears for their life and determines a need to threaten lethal force it is significant enough to report to police so law enforcement can stop that perpetrator from harming someone else.

I wonder if the GVA would apply these same standards to counting the number of sexual assaults. By their definition, they wouldn't consider that the number of sexual assaults exceed the news and police reports , because women or men who don't report a sexual assault didn't find it “significant enough to report to police so law enforcement can stop that perpetrator from harming someone else.” While I think the GVA should “*” the DGU numbers and include a comment that the numbers are actually much higher, I place the blame on the liars who present these numbers in a disingenuous way.

Here is a post catching the media and politicians in Astounding Videos of Firearm Misinformation and Lies.

In Closing —

Understanding the method of collecting the data helps us use it appropriately, making more persuasive arguments when discussing gun legislation. We can also recognize when someone misrepresents the data or makes unsubstantiated correlations.

Here is a link to a 2019 article on the website, Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). The author does well to debunk the false claim that “the US leads the world in mass shootings.”

For full disclosure, here is the official FBI press release of the 2021 “active shooter” data.

guardian nation join

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.


  1. David Brown on June 16, 2022 at 9:55 am

    Vey good analysis. With your permission, I will post to my FB page where I know family and friends will see it. Thank you.

    • Matthew Maruster on June 16, 2022 at 10:11 am

      Thank you David I am happy you find the content useful. Absolutely share away! Thank you!

Leave a Comment