Mass Shootings on the Rise, Even As Violent Crime Falls
Although rates of gun homicide have continued to fall in the United States since the early 1990s, the public is not generally aware of that fact. But new concern about mass shootings—and an explosion of media interest in a number of high-profile massacres during the past year—may be justified by new criminological research.
Researchers at the Texas State University School of Criminal Justice analyzed 84 shooting events between 2000 and 2010, and found that the frequency of the events is increasing—and that the leading weapon of mass shooters was the pistol, followed by the rifle and the shotgun.
"In the wake of the tragic active shooter attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, police administrators are struggling both to respond to their citizens’ concerns and to ensure that their departments are prepared should an attack happen in their jurisdictions," reads the report [PDF]. "It is our hope that the information contained here will provide police administrators with the data needed to base their active shooter preparations on empirical evidence."
The data paints a picture of diverse, bloody encounters, with a median of four individuals shot and two deaths per episode.
While some shooters surrender or commit suicide before law enforcement arrive, others engage "aggressively" with the police, with one in five incidents further complicated by taking place in open, outdoor spaces.
Out of the three cases in which armed bystanders ended the confrontation by shooting the attacker, two were by off-duty police officers and one was by a US marine. However, report author J. Pete Blair disputes easy conclusions about the role of bystanders in halting mass shootings.
"While armed civilian intervention has been rare, it has occurred and stopped events," he said. "Arguments can easily be made either way and will primarily be driven from ideological starting points."
Early tracking suggests that mass shootings have continued to increase in frequency since 2010, Blair said.
Mass shootings are still a minor threat compared to other types of shooting deaths.
According to the FBI, mass shootings in 2010 accounted for less than one percent of homicide victims.
Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.