Four or Five Mass Shootings a Year—Not One a Day

You are going to hear and read endless data about school and mass shootings. Most of it is wrong and is based on advocacy organizations trying to gain publicity.

I just wrote, “Honesty, School and Mass Shootings” where I debunked data on school shootings (via the Washington Post) and an alleged increase in school crime; violence in schools is at record lows per US Department of Justice data.

Nearly One Mass Shooting a Day

The widely held belief that there is an upward trend in deadly massacres is a product of media misrepresentation and public misunderstanding.

In the past few years, following each major mass killing involving firearms, the print and electronic media, desperate for sidebar material to serve as an audience hook, have reported that over 300 mass shootings occur every year, nearly one a day.

Frightening figures like these are culled from the Gun Violence Archive with its alternative definition of mass shooting as four or more people shot, but not necessarily killed.

In fact, in nearly half of the Archive’s 1,333 mass shootings from 2014 through 2017, no one was killed, not even the gunman. And in over three-quarters of the cases, at most one person perished, The Crime Report.

Congressional Research Service

The data below from The Congressional Research Service tracks the increase in mass shootings going from one incident a year during the 1970s to 4.5 incidents a year from 2010-2013.

While there is an increase, it’s certainly not the one a day figures being promoted via the media.

There will be an after-action analysis (there always is) by those who review data used by the media during incidents of note. When it happens, the media will have to answer questions as to why they used inaccurate and inflammatory figures as often as they did.

As of this writing, local and national media is still citing 18 school shootings since the beginning of the year, that crime in schools is increasing, and there is one mass shooting a day; all of which are incorrect. I’m being generous with my use of the term, “incorrect.” They are inflated to provide publicity for their cause.

Summary of The Congressional Research Service (lightly edited for readability)

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown Conn., Congress defined “mass killings” as “3 or more killings in a single incident.” (Note: Their definition does not make reference to type of weapon).

Any consideration of new or existing gun laws that follows mass shootings is likely to generate requests for comprehensive data on the prevalence and deadliness of these incidents.

Despite the pathos of mass shootings, only a handful of researchers and journalists have analyzed the principal source of homicide data in the United States—the Supplementary Homicide Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—to determine whether those incidents have become more prevalent and deadly.

According to the FBI, the term “mass murder” has been defined generally as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered, within one event, and in one or more locations in close geographical proximity.

Based on this definition, for the purposes of this report, “mass shooting” is defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity.

Similarly, a “mass public shooting” is defined to mean a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, in at least one or more public locations, such as, a workplace, school, restaurant, house of worship, neighborhood, or other public setting.

This report analyzes mass shootings for a 15-year period (1999-2013).

CRS analysis of the FBI dataset and other research indicates that offenders committed at least 317 mass shootings, murdered 1,554 victims, and nonfatally wounded another 441 victims entirely with firearms during that 15-year period.

The prevalence of mass shooting incidents and victim counts fluctuated sporadically from year to year.

For the period 2007-2013, the annual averages for both incidents and victim counts were slightly higher than the years from 1999-2007.

CRS also compiled a 44-year (1970-2013) dataset of firearms-related mass murders that could arguably be characterized as “mass public shootings.”

These data show that there were on average:

  • One (1.1) incident per year during the 1970s (5.5 victims murdered, 2.0 wounded per incident),
  • Nearly three (2.7) incidents per year during the 1980s (6.1 victims murdered, 5.3 wounded per incident),
  • Four (4.0) incidents per year during the 1990s (5.6 victims murdered, 5.5 wounded per incident),
  • Four (4.1) incidents per year during the 2000s (6.4 victims murdered, 4.0 wounded per incident),
  • Four (4.5) incidents per year from 2010 through 2013 (7.4 victims murdered, 6.3 wounded per incident).

These decade-long averages suggest that the prevalence, if not the deadliness, of “mass public shootings” increased in the 1970s and 1980s, and continued to increase, but not as steeply, during the 1990s, 2000s, and first four years of the 2010s.

Mass shootings are arguably one of the worst manifestations of gun violence. As discussed in this report, statute, media outlets, gun control and rights advocates, law enforcement agencies, and Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013 Congressional Research Service researchers often adopt different definitions of “mass killing,” “mass murder,” and “mass shooting,” contributing to a welter of claims and counter-claims about the prevalence and deadliness of mass shootings.

With improved data, policymakers would arguably have additional vantage points from which to assess the legislative proposals that are inevitably made in the wake of these tragedies.

Toward these ends, Congress could consider directing one or several federal agencies, including but not limited to the FBI and BJS, to improve collection of data on multiple-victim homicides. Congress could also direct federal agencies, possibly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to report annually on firearms-related mass murders, including data on (1) offender acquisition of firearms, (2) types of firearms used, (3) amounts and types of ammunition carried and shots fired, (4) killed and wounded counts, (5) offender histories of mental illness and domestic violence, and (6) victim-offender relationships.

Context

For 15 years (1999-2013), the United States has seen about 31 mass murders per year on average that resulted in four or more persons being murdered in a single incident.

Of those incidents, CRS has confirmed that 21 per year on average were committed entirely with firearms.

Of those mass murders with firearms, 4.4 per year on average were mass public shootings that occurred in one or more public locations, such as a workplace, school, restaurant, house of worship, neighborhood, or other public setting.

For the same 15 years, the United States has seen about 8.5 familicide mass shootings per year on average, in which offenders typically murdered their domestic partners and children in private residences or secluded, sparsely populated settings . . . and 8.3 other felony mass shootings per year on average, in which offenders committed murders as part of some other underlying criminal activity (robbery, insurance fraud, or criminal competition) or commonplace circumstance (argument).

Since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., tragedy, the national dialogue on gun violence has been focused on mass public shootings, partly due to several such shootings in recent years (2007, 2009, and 2012) that resulted in double-digit victim counts.

Based on five-year annual averages, the United States saw an uptick in the prevalence and deadliness of mass public shootings for the last five years (2009-2013).

However, those increases were largely driven by a few incidents in 2012. If 2012 were excluded, the averages would actually have been lower than the preceding five-year period (2004-2008).

For 44 years (1970-2013), the prevalence of mass public shootings has increased: 1.1 incidents per year on average in the 1970s, 2.7 in the 1980s, 4.0 in the 1990s, 4.1 in the 2000s, and 4.5 in the first four years of the 2010s.

Generalizations about offenders who commit mass public shootings are often carried over and applied to other offenders, who commit mass shootings under different circumstances. The three broad patterns of firearms-related mass murders identified in this report—public, familicide, and other felony—present different, but sometimes overlapping, sets of issues and challenges.

Source:

Congressional Research Service

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.