POSTSCRIPT / June 9, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who’s next victim of ‘mass shooting’?

How many victims must die in a gun-related incident to qualify it as a “mass shooting”? And, in the case of the United States, how should the government and the community move to dispel the “Who’s next?” question hanging over the heads of Americans?

Crosses with the names of victims of a school shooting, are pictured at a memorial outside Robb Elementary school. Photo: Marco Bello/ Reuters

We have not crossed the halfway mark of 2022 yet Americans have already seen at least 246 shootings. Not surprising – last year there were 692 similar violent incidents, 610 in the previous year, and 417 in 2019, according to the tracking group Gun Violence Archive.

The 4.2 million Filipino Americans settled in Asian communities in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, and New York do their best to keep away from any flare-up, but one can never tell when and where an unstable shooter will snap and go on a rampage.

On May 14, a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket left 10 people dead and three others wounded. Ten days later, a gunman targeted a 4th-grade class at a school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 21 and injuring 17.

Over the first weekend of June, 14 people were shot near a nightclub in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 14 in an entertainment district in Philadelphia, and eight at a graduation party in Summerton, South Carolina. Before that, there was a shooting at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What’s happening to Americans and their romance with the dearly beloved Gun, their union seemingly sanctified by their constitutional right to bear arms?

The Gun Violence Archive describes a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter. Other groups’ definitions require a different count of victims.

There is still no consensus, although the minimum number of victims is widely pegged at three or four (not including the shooter) within a short period. In Australia, one study in 2006 set a minimum of five dead.

Some US news media and crime violence research groups say mass shootings involve four or more people shot (wounded or killed), not counting the gunman, in a single incident, at the same general time and location.

Shootings can happen in non-public situations such as when someone shoots family members at home. Referred to as familicides, these killings are not included in mass shooting statistics. Deaths of those shot in a robbery or a terrorist attack are also not counted.

Studies must dig deeper into the motive for mass shootings which are widely presumed to arise from a desire in deeply disgruntled individuals to seek revenge or payback for failures in school, career, romance, and life in general.

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The gunning down of 58 individuals in the Ampatuan town of Maguindanao in 2009 did not enter the books as a mass shooting. It was classified as a “massacre” without the difference amply explained.

The 58 victims were on their way to file (or, in the case of the media victims, to cover the filing) the certificate of candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan, when they were kidnapped and later executed.

Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of then Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and member of one of Mindanao’s powerful Muslim political clans.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the Maguindanao massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history with at least 34 of them killed. The Philippines thus cemented its being the second most dangerous country to cover, second only to Iraq, at the time.

Another bloodbath in 2015 saw 54 members of the Special Action Force of the national police mowed down in an open field in Mamasapano, also in Maguindanao, by terrorists whose leader the officers were sent to arrest.

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There are a variety of definitions of mass shooting or mass killing. A compilation of Wikipedia includes:

Under US federal law, the Attorney General – on a request from a state – may assist in investigating “mass killings”, rather than mass shootings. It is defined as the murder of four or more people with no cooling-off period (but this was redefined by Congress in 2013 as the murder of three or more people).

USA Today defines a mass killing as an incident in which four or more were killed, including those in familial killings. This definition is also used by the Washington Post. Similarly, Mother Jones defines it as a single attack in a public place where four or more were killed (but since 2013 has changed the threshold to three or more victims being killed).

A crowdsourced data site often cited by US media, Mass Shooting Tracker defines a mass shooting as a single outburst of violence in which four or more people are shot, whether injured or killed.

The Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, signed into law in January 2013, defines a mass killing at a minimum of three deaths, excluding the perpetrator.

CBS defines a mass shooting as an event involving the shooting (not necessarily resulting in death) of five or more people (sometimes four) with no cooling-off period.

But University of Pennsylvania says no matter how many people are killed, if a shooting is perpetrated by a foreign terrorist that is not included. Another exclusion is if 10 people are shot but only two die. Also if five people are run over by a car that does not count because no firearm was used. Some inclusions are multiple deaths caused by an armed robbery. Deaths as a result of gang wars are also sometimes included.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 9, 2022)

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