A new study by the Congressional Research Service, by far the most thorough and comprehensive of its type to date, confirms that mass shootings continue to be rare in the United States. While Michael Bloomberg’s TheTrace.org website says that mass shootings happen “more often than they used to,” renown criminologist James Alan Fox, of Northeastern University, whose extensive analysis of mass shootings is discussed at length in the CRS study, says that the study shows “there is no solid trend” in the number of such crimes and “No matter how you cut it, there’s no epidemic.”
The study, “Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013,” defines a “mass shooting” as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, in one or more locations in close proximity.” Because the underlying circumstances of mass shootings vary widely, the study categorizes such crimes as family-related, felony-related (e.g., robberies and gang shootouts), and those taking place in public locations, such as schools, restaurants and houses of worship.
By CRS’ count, 71 percent of mass shootings and 79 percent of their fatal victims over the 15-year period 1999-2013 were family- or felony-related. Public incidents, while accounting for the vast majority of mass shootings covered by the news media, accounted for only 21 percent of such incidents and 29 percent of their victims.
Anti-gun groups and their allies in the news media portray mass shootings as common events that place the public at extreme risk. However, between 1999 and 2013, mass shootings covered by the CRS study accounted for a microscopic 0.004 percent of all deaths, about 0.66 percent of all murder victims, and less than one fiftieth the number of non-firearm murder victims in the United States. Stated another way, during the same 15-year period, the chance against a person being killed in a mass shooting in the United States was about 517,000:1.
Finally, while anti-gun groups would like to portray mass shootings as being most often committed with “assault weapons,” the CRS study found that between 1999 and 2013, less than 10 percent of mass shootings were committed with any firearm capable of using a detachable magazine holding more than 10 rounds.
With other data showing that most mass shootings are committed by individuals who acquire guns by passing background checks or by illegal means, the CRS study adds to the body of evidence against any expansion of firearm-related background checks systems on the basis of mass shootings’ frequency or trend.