Are mass shootings on the rise? Yes or no?!!!
That’s kinda how I feel about this subject. Just give me a straightforward answer to that question. A simple “yes” or a “no.” Of course things aren’t always that simple, especially when you’re talking about a subject matter that’s shrouded in controversy.
Let me start by addressing the question at hand, which has particular importance in the wake of a report, “Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013,” released last week by the Congressional Research Service.
The answer to the question is not in a statistically significant way. Still not clear? Well, there’s been a slight uptick in recent years, but certainly not a dramatic rise as some gun-control organizations would have one believe.
To quote criminologist James Alan Fox, who authored a book on the subject, “Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder,” the report’s findings show “a great volatility in the numbers. There’s no solid trend.”
“No matter how you cut it, there’s no epidemic,” added the Northeastern professor in an interview with Reason.com. “This report should calm the fears that many people have that these numbers are out of control.”
To repeat, there is no epidemic!
One of the most vexing aspects of looking at mass shootings is that there is a lot of confusion about what certain terms mean. Specifically, how does one define “mass shooting,” or “mass murder” or “mass public shooting”? Are they all the same thing?
No, they’re not.
For purposes of clarity, the FBI doesn’t put mass shootings in a specific category. What the agency tracks is “mass murder,” which is defined as a single event in one location where four or more victims are slain (not including the perpetrator). The FBI doesn’t differentiate between mass murders with a knife versus a gun or a bat or any other implement.
However, for the purposes of the report, the CRS looked at FBI statistics (mass murders) as well as research gathered from various criminologists, including Fox, to devise definitions for mass shootings, mass public shootings, familicide mass shooting, and other felony mass shooting.
The CRS defined them thusly:
“mass shooting” means a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and in one or more locations in close geographical proximity;
“mass public shooting” means a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and at least some of the murders occurred in a public location or locations in close geographical proximity (e.g., a workplace, school, restaurant, or other public settings), and the murders are not attributable to any other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle);
“familicide mass shooting” means a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and a majority of the victims were members of the offender’s immediate or extended family, the majority of whom were murdered in one or more private residences or secluded, sparsely populated settings in close geographical proximity, and the murders are not attributable to any other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (e.g., armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle); and
“other felony mass shooting” means a multiple victim homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, in one or more locations in close geographical proximity, and the murders are attributable to some other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (e.g., armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle).
It’s a lot to digest, but it’s important to compare apples to apples when analyzing the data. CRS did a pretty good job of doing so, comparing apples to apples, in the report.
How Slight is the Uptick?
The reports essential findings are iterated in the graph below. Though the report is 46-pages long, this is basically what you need to know:
There are also several helpful graphs that give you a sense of just how small the uptick is (see below):
You’ll also note that there was a claim in the report about the increase in mass public shootings from the 1970s to today. But when adjusted for population growth, the per capita numbers of mass shooting each decade varies little, according to Fox who said, “Basically, there is no rise. There are some years that are bad, some that are not so bad.”
Does Any of this Really Matter?
The short answer is no. Our right to keep and bear arms exists independent of crime rates, murder rates or trends in mass shootings.
Yet, there is a constant push by gun grabbers to use crime-related statistics to justify infringements on the Second Amendment. For the most part, these efforts have come up shot because there has been a uniform drop in property crime, violent crime and the overall homicide rate as gun rights, specifically the right to carry concealed, have been expanded over the past two decades.
At first glance, this latest study on mass shootings is ostensibly good news for anti-gunners. However, a quick examination shows once again that there is no substantive argument to make about any causal relationship between gun laws and mass shootings. Moreover, any claim that a certain gun-control bill will somehow reduce the number of mass shootings is equally unfounded as gun-control laws (the federal ban on Assault Weapons) have come and gone and the trend in mass shootings — about 21 per year — remains virtually unchanged.