In the wake of the mass shooting at a Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. on Monday where 13 people were killed, including the shooter, there have been conflicting reports about whether mass shootings are on the rise in recent years.
However, according to James Alan Fox, a criminologist who studies mass murder, the matter is not subject to debate. The data is abundantly clear. There is no increase.
In a column in USA Today, entitled, “Mass murders less frequent than we think,” Fox did his best to settle the debate.
“Whatever the political response, it is important to dispel the widely held notion that mass shootings are on the rise,” wrote Fox. “Over the past 30 years, there has been an average of nearly 20 mass shootings a year in the U.S., each involving at least four victims killed, but with no upward or downward trajectory.”
The confusion over whether mass shootings are increasing stems from the way in which people define “mass shootings.” The FBI doesn’t exactly define “mass shootings” per se, rather the agency defines “mass murder” as a single incident in which a person kills four or more people, not including himself.
The FBI’s definition of mass murder has become the de facto definition for mass shooting for most criminologists, including Fox. Yet not everyone has adopted this basic definition. The left-wing publication Mother Jones, which writes a lot about the subject, has created its own definition for “mass shooting,” accepting the criteria of a single incident with at least four victims, but further narrowing it by excluding for certain factors.
From Mother Jones:
- We excluded crimes involving armed robbery or gang violence;
- The attack must have occurred in essentially a single incident, in a public place;
- The killer, in accordance with the FBI guideline, had to have taken the lives of at least four people.
Apart from the reactionary exposure these events get in the media, this is why there is so much confusion on the subject. Different definitions will yield different results.
That said, whatever side of the gun divide one finds himself or herself on, he/she has to acknowledge certain facts, such as the fact that the homicide rate, property crime and violent crime have all uniformly decreased over the past two decades. With respect to gun crime specifically, that has gone down by 49 percent since 1993.
Meanwhile, gun ownership has increased and concealed carry rights and self-defense laws have been expanded over the same time period.
The other fact that can’t be overlooked, which may muddy the waters, is that of the 12 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, seven have taken place since 2007, as the Washington Post reported. To put that number in perspective, mass shooters have killed 214 people since 2007.
Given this grim reality, it forces us to consider what we can do to prevent future tragedies and save lives. The answer to that question remains elusive. Though, what is clear is that gun control is not the answer, according to Fox.
“Most mass murderers do not have criminal records that would disqualify them from purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer,” wrote Fox in his column. “And most mass murderers, despite whatever mental health issues are driving them, do not have a history of institutionalization that would knock them from eligibility.”
“In addition, proposals to restore the assault weapons ban, although well-intentioned and potentially helpful in curtailing gun crime generally, will not appreciably impact violence in its most extreme form,” he continued. “Most mass murderers do not use weapons that would be characterized as “assault weapons”; unfortunately, they can do tremendous damage using more conventional firearms.”
That was the case in Virginia Tech, still the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, when a gunman used two commonly owned handguns to kill 32 people.
It also appears that the Navy Yard shooter did not have a so-called “assault weapon,” as was initially reported by CBS News among other media outlets. Instead, he killed his victim with a shotgun.
Looking ahead, lawmakers at every level of government will continue to discuss and propose legislative remedies to solve this problem. But in the end, if more laws will not stop evil from acting out, what will? Perhaps a better question is: what has the chance to from time to time? A good guy with a gun — and perhaps better mental health treatment and a hyper-vigilant and engaged populace, i.e. “If you see something, say something” type of attitude.
What are your thoughts?