A common refrain of the anti-gun lobby claims that the United States stands alone in its frequency of mass public shootings.
On CBS Evening News in 2015, for example, then-President Barack Obama claimed, “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”
According to a new study, Obama’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dr. John R. Lott, President of the Crime Prevention Research Center, considered mass public shootings worldwide between 1998 and 2015 and found that the United States makes up less than 1.13 percent of the mass public shooters, 1.77 percent of their murders, and 2.19 percent of their attacks – all while accounting for 4.6 percent of the world’s population.
Using the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database along with newspaper searches, Lott and team identified 2,772 attacks and at least 5,764 shooters outside the United States and 62 attacks and 66 shooters within the U.S.
Researchers defined “mass public shooting” according to the FBI’s definition: four or more people killed at one time in one public place. As per the FBI’s definition, Lott excluded shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence, occurred in the commission of another ongoing crime such as robbery, or arose primarily from self-defense.
Lott and his team also found that the rate of growth for the frequency of mass public shootings in the rest of the world is 291 percent faster than for the U.S.
“While Americans are understandably concerned with the increased frequency and severity of mass public shootings, the rest of the world has experienced a much larger increase in their per capita rates than the United States,” Lott said.
Anti-gun politicians will sometimes hedge their statements with words like “advanced” or “rich” when comparing the U.S. mass public shooting rate with other countries.
At a 2015 Conference of Mayors, for example, Obama said, “You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth.”
While it is true that many of the countries at the top of Lott’s list are less developed, a number of “advanced” countries still outpace the United States’ mass public shooting rate.
The full study (which is worth a read at only 41 pages) includes a list of all 101 countries Lott considered. In the list of the number of attacks per 100,000 people, Israel (0.127), Finland (0.058), Switzerland (0.041), Russia (0.026), and Norway (0.022) all outpace the U.S. (0.021). Belgium (0.019) and France (0.013) aren’t far behind.
Lott’s numbers also prove conclusively that a high number of firearms in a country does not lead to high rates of mass public shootings.
With a gun ownership rate of 88.8 guns per 100 people, the United States far outpaces all other 100 countries. The next highest country is Yemen (about 55 guns per 100 people) followed by Finland and Switzerland (about 46).
If a high number of guns led to a high number of mass public shootings, one would expect the United States to rank at or near the top of the list. Instead, it ranks 66th out of the 101 countries studied.
This isn’t the first time Lott has considered this issue. In 2018, Lott took down an anti-gun researcher who claimed that the United States accounted for 31 percent of mass public shooters worldwide between 1966 and 2012. Lott performed a similar analysis to the one above and found that between 1998 and 2012, the U.S. only accounted for 2.88 percent of mass shootings.