I don't understand the way "active shooter" is being used in news stories relating to people being shot at an Arkansas night club.

The Guardian:

Police said the shooting at Power Ultra Lounge was the result of a dispute among club-goers and not an active shooter or terror-related incident.

Apparently the actual police statement was:

We do NOT believe this incident was an active shooter or terror related incident. It appears to have been a dispute at a concert

What is the distinction between an "active shooter" and other shooters who are intentionally shooting people?

  • 1
    The shooter was definitely active at the time of the shooting but now he's not. I agree that it is strange that the police would indicate that it never was an active shooter incident.
    – thomj1332
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:43
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    @thomj1332 'Active shooter' means that they went into the club with the sole purpose of killing people. According to the police report, this was not the case, it was instead an escalation between club goers. 'Active shooter' does not mean that they were 'actively shooting people' in this sense. Jul 3, 2017 at 15:44
  • 1
    @macellothearcance, not according to the definition given by Homeland security...see answer below...An active shooter is "an individual actively engaged in killing..."
    – thomj1332
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:47
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    @marcellothearcane another definition is "An active shooter is considered to be a suspect or assailant whose activity is immediately causing serious injury or death and has not been contained" police.vt.edu/programs-training/emergency-training/…
    – DavePhD
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:48
  • @DavePhD exactly, so not a malicious intent initially is the point. Jul 3, 2017 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


The Little Rock police were not using the phrase correctly. The Arkansas shooter was indeed active "in a confined and populated area" during the shooting therefore he was an active shooter (per USDHS definition given by other answerer).

The term is used so people (including first responders) can know whether the shooter is still active and dangerous or the threat is neutralized (for whatever reason).

See image below for an example of the correct usage:

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Wikipedia says that "active shooter names the perpetrator of a type of mass murder marked by rapidity, scale, randomness and suicide".

And the United States Department of Homeland Security (pdf) defines an active shooter as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) [sic] and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims".

  • OK, so in Arkansas the shooter(s) were attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, using firearms, but maybe it wasn't random.
    – DavePhD
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:43
  • This book makes it sound like only attempting to kill in a confined or populated space is required, not random selection of victims. books.google.com/… Says it is mostly shooters in commercial buildings, like workplace shootings.
    – DavePhD
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:55
  • 2
    Good find. Sometimes you need a basic but imperfect jargon to quickly group things. Of course a philosophical discussion would blur the margins but that isn't the point.
    – Tom22
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:59
  • Yes, it seems like there are many definitions, but I think the best source is directly from USDHS themselves.
    – loading...
    Jul 3, 2017 at 16:00
  • Gotta admit that I was pretty surprised the first time that I heard the expression used when there was NOT a firearm involved
    – A C
    Jul 3, 2017 at 20:35

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