The hidden data of mass shootings

Wes X
4 min readAug 27, 2023

On the hunt for a new way to measure the impact of mass shootings

“Guns, American and Data” by Dalle 2

The revelation came to my wife after many frustrating conversations with pro-gun lawmakers in the bowels of congressional offices on Capitol Hill. She’s a smarter gun law advocate and a survivor of the Highland Park parade shooting.

“I had this idea that they would be swayed by the facts,” she said. “You know, how many people and children were shot, who has died, the damage that the weapons inflicted.”

She remembers she met with one particular US representative. He was unmoved.

“The numbers are so small, statistically speaking,” he said.

Her gut told her there was a disconnect somewhere in people’s mental models about mass shootings. What happened during a mass shooting didn’t align with the way people thought about them. She started studying the way the media covered mass shootings. A pattern started to emerge.

“The numbers are so small, statistically speaking,” he said, unmoved.

Historically, news coverage emphasized the number of dead and wounded, then usually coughed up a perfunctory description of the shooter and their motives. There was scant mention of anything else.

Highland Park was no different. In the aftermath, the media reported stories of the dead and wounded and broadcast the details from a small village of pop-up tents.

After three days, the tents were gone–first the national news crews left, followed by the local crews. They stopped trying to make sense of the disaster and moved on to the next one.

For the past year, my wife, with me as a supporter, has tried to make our guns law smarter. She’s talked to celebrities, politicians and fellow survivors about how to do this. She’s made friends with survivors from places with infamous names–Parkland, Ulvalde, Newtown and Sandy Hook. They all wondered the same thing — why do we only report certain data?

When there was a mass shooting in my town of Highland Park, news reports focused on the immediate victims. But in the days post-shooting, the FBI and the Red Cross commandeered the Highland Park High School for disaster relief. Over a thousand…

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Wes X

Politics, gun safety, & society–with a curious mind. Join the conversation!