NAU Shooting Wasn't a "Real School Shooting," Many on Social Media Claim

Shortly after a student at Northern Arizona University shot four other students during what authorities are saying was a fight outside of a popular fraternity hot spot late last week, another round of the national gun-control debate exploded on social media.

Predictably, those calling for tighter background checks and laws sparred with those calling for better mental-health policies or defending Second Amendment rights, but what made these Facebook and Twitter interactions unique was insistence by those in the later group that the NAU shooting somehow wasn't a real school shooting.  

It's true that, as far as we know, the suspected gunman, Steven Jones, shot the four Delta Chi fraternity brothers early Friday morning because of a fight, meaning his actions do not appear to be premeditated like those of the Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Umpqua Community college gunmen.

"This was not a 'school shooting' in the recent sense of the term. No one sprayed bullets in a crowd. A few guys were fighting and someone pulled out a gun and fired it," one Facebook user wrote regarding New Times' article about the shooting.
But other social media users did not take well to those claiming Jones' purported actions didn't constitute a school shooting incident.Sure, the shooting didn't seem to fit the typical profile of a crazed gunman opening fire on random students, they acknowledged on Facebook and Twitter, but it was a shooting, and it did happen on a university campus — so it was a school shooting.

Others shot back that lumping Friday morning's event in with other premeditated shootings was a blatant attempt to forward a liberal gun-control agenda or somehow to mislead the public into supporting certain public policies.

Charles Katz, a professor at Arizona State University's Center for Violence Prevention, says he's "not sure what hair they're trying to split" with this argument: "Somebody died; how does it not count? It certainly counts for the person who died and for their family. As far as counting it as a school shooting, it occurred on campus. So it's a school shooting."

Katz declined to comment on how the social media debate plays into the politics of gun control, but he did point out that the NAU shooting is an example of "typical homicide" — a fight breaks out, someone pulls a gun, and people get shot.

"Most homicides don't involve stranger-on-stranger violence. That's pretty rare. Most [shooters and victims] know each other or are associated with each other in some way," he says.

"It's important to study violence in the context in which violence occurs," he adds, and just because it wasn't premeditated, this "doesn't negate the fact that it occurred at an educational facility."

There were a lot of comments about whether the NAU shooting even "counted" as a mass shooting, a term for which is there is little consensus on its definition. According to The Mass Shooting Tracker, a mass shooting occurs when four or more people are shot, but according to the FBI, a mass shooting involves the death of three or more people.

While these sorts of distinctions are important, Katz says he'd remind the public that every gun death is violent: "Whether one violent death is the same as one in which 10 [people] were shot, well, obviously one makes more press, but I'm not sure why anyone would split hairs like that." 

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser