America Should Call Mass Shootings by the Right Name: Massacres

The term ‘mass shooting’ allows too many people to avoid the problem — and the solution

Colin Horgan
3 min readMay 26, 2022


Photo by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash

A great place to start to end mass shootings in America is stricter gun control. It feels crazy to have to state this from the outset, but amidst other, certifiably insane suggestions like only having a single door defended by an armed guard or booby-trapping the buildings, it’s necessary to make that clear right away. What America needs is gun control and restrictions on access to guns — as well as probably outright bans on assault weapons and the sale of body armour.

But another change that must occur is in how we talk about mass shootings. Already, media tend not to name the shooters as a way to avoid creating a cult-like status for them. Something else needs to change, too — what we call these events. Every time there’s a mass shooting in the U.S. and discussion turns, as it should, to the solutions (gun control!), we talk about other countries that successfully implemented those solutions (gun control!) and effectively reduced or eliminated mass shootings — countries like Australia and the U.K.

What few tend to note is what those countries call their mass shootings. They don’t call them mass shootings. They’re known by a more accurate name: massacres. The Port Arthur massacre. The Queen Street massacre. The Hungerford massacre. The Dunblane massacre. While Canada has tended in recent years to default to the American term “mass shooting,” the event that helped galvanize public support of stricter gun laws, the 1989 shooting at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, is also known as a massacre.

We call these massacres because that’s what they were.

It’s not a mass shooting, it’s a massacre.

A massacre is, by definition, the indiscriminate slaughtering of multiple, defenceless people. A shooting, on the other hand, carries little to none of that weight — it is instead much less descriptive and specific. A shooting may mean a single bullet or many, but the point is it’s not clear. It doesn’t properly describe what has happened. And it does not convey the horrific nature of the crime. It also lets the perpetrator off the…