Mass Shootings Statistics and Timeline
Unpredictable mass shootings rock the United States with sporadic frequency. Some target people at specific locations, like schools and concerts, while others sow fear with their randomness, spraying people on the street or at a store with deadly bullets. Three countries, Japan, Venezuela, and Uruguay, warned their residents about travel to the U.S. based on the risks involved in shootings. Other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have standing warnings for travelers about gun violence in the U.S.
Guns account for at least 40,000 deaths in the United States every year, far more than most other first-world countries. The gun death rate for the U.S. is over 12 per 100,000, significantly higher than all European countries but on par with what is considered dangerous, war-torn, unstable, and less-developed Central and South American countries like Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador.
Concern about mass shootings periodically grabs headlines, but the solution – the way to prevent them – has been elusive. Many point to the 1996 Dickey Amendment legislation prohibiting the federal health and safety agency, the Centers of Disease Control, to research gun deaths in any way that would promote gun control measures. As such the country lacks leadership that might prompt safeguards, much the way that the CDC outlined steps to legislation that made automobiles safer by requiring seatbelts and airbags. Some say the Dickey legislation that has hamstrung the agency also removed its ability to make any progress on other gun deaths, including the escalating rate of suicide by firearms that claims more than 25,000 lives per year. Nearly half of all suicides in the U.S. are by gun, yet a CDC report on the issue in 2018 did not cite or mention the availability of guns, instead of calling such methods “lethal means.”
There are more than 265 million privately-owned guns in the United States, and despite the alarming rate of gun deaths, experts say Americans are more likely to die by heart disease.
Mass shootings are generally defined as those in which 3 or more people are wounded. One source says the frequency of such incidents has escalated, from one every 200 days prior to 2011 to one every 64 days in 2014. Due to the lack of federal leadership on the matter, many media outlets and nonprofit organizations are keeping their own records on mass shootings. Databases vary in their definitions of mass shootings, completeness, and date of the first record.
The Gun Violence Archive logged 36 mass shooting events in a one-month period during the summer of 2019, more than one per day, totaling 61 killed and 189 injured.
Along with prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from compiling gun violence statistics and treating mass shootings like a public health issue, lawmakers have blocked the possibility of tighter gun control restrictions at the federal level. States are free to create and change gun laws, such as Florida’s enhancements imposed after the 2018 massacre of students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which included a three-day waiting period before purchases can be completed, and moving the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21.
Mass Shootings Statistics and Facts
Some federal legislators would like to add national gun control measures, such as:
- limits on magazine size, which slows the number of bullets that can be fired without reloading;
- universal background checks for all gun sales that will keep firearms away from those who are prohibited from possessing them or who are suspected of planning violence, and
- stronger red flag laws that remove firearms from those involved in domestic violence incidents as well as from those who are mentally unstable and show interest in violent acts.
Common characteristics of mass shootings:
- Twice as many fatalities result when mass shootings involved high-capacity magazines;
- Most mass shootings result from domestic incidents;
- Nearly 90 percent of children killed in mass shootings are caught in domestic or family violence incidents;
- The shooters in one-third of mass shootings were prohibited from possessing firearms, and
- Prior to the event, the shooter showed signs of potential dangerousness in half of the mass shootings.
What Makes 2020 Statistics Different?
Despite a general decrease in crime during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, murders and violent assaults increased. The F.B.I. estimated that murders are up nearly 15 percent while another source estimated there were 24 percent more murders than in the previous year. Some ascribe this increase in deaths to hospitals overwhelmed with sick people and therefore unable to save lives, but others say the increase in murders is related to a huge spike in gun purchases.
October 2020 holds the record for the second-most guns purchased in a single month: 1.92 million. Of these 1.2 million were handguns and over 700,000 were rifles and shotguns. Those who study gun violence say that huge increases in purchases of guns result in huge bumps in homicide rates. Major historical events such as elections also affect gun sales (and 2020 featured a particularly divisive national election during which armed militias sometimes demonstrated in the streets and anti-police violence demonstrations were frequent).
Alaska was the only state that did not see a major jump in gun sales in October 2020. Even tiny Rhode Island logged more than 5,000 gun sales in October 2020, a 122 percent increase over the same month a year before. Big states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, Florida, and California each recorded more than 100,000 firearms purchases that month.
Deadliest Mass Shootings in the U.S.
1. October 1, 2017: Las Vegas Harvest Music Festival.
59 dead, 440 wounded. Summary: a lone gunman brought over 10 guns, including many legally-purchased assault rifle-type weapons, into the high-rise Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. Despite having no record of violent behavior, the middle-aged man intentionally planned to break out a window of the hotel overlooking a massive outdoor music festival where thousands had gathered. While a band played, the gunman began shooting into the crowd, causing panic. The dead and wounded overwhelmed local medical and police services. The gunman committed suicide in the hotel room before the police were able to isolate his location and storm the room. Investigators later found dozens of more guns in the man’s home.
2. June 12, 2016: Pulse Nightclub, Orlando Florida.
50 dead and 53 injured. Summary: a lone Muslim gunman with a semi-automatic weapon entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire on people inside, allegedly in retribution for American military actions in the Middle East. Some victims barricaded themselves in bathrooms while others attempted to flee through blocked emergency exits and were trapped. The gunman called television stations to espouse his political point of view and talked with police hostage negotiators during a long standoff while club goers were pinned in bathrooms. Three hours after it began, police were able to drive a ramming vehicle through a wall of the building and engage the gunman in a firefight, which killed him.
3. April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech college, Virginia.
32 dead, 17 wounded. The issue of mental health and stability of college students was illuminated when an undergraduate student of South Korean birth killed fellow students in a residence hall and in a classroom building several hours apart on the Virginia Tech campus using two legally-purchased semi-automatic handguns. His mental health status was thoroughly questioned after the event, as it became public knowledge that he had been diagnosed with severe anxiety in high school and given special accommodations. The college was unaware of these issues, even when he was accused of stalking female students and determined to be mentally ill. Following the incident, the state changed gun laws to make it more difficult for such individuals to purchase handguns.
4. December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut.
28 dead, 2 injured. This shooting is a watershed in the volatile issue of American gun control, as a lone gunman shot his way into a school, killing six teachers and administrators and 20 children ages 6 and 7 in their classrooms, terrorizing others who hid in closets and behind locked doors. The gunman was a young, socially isolated and potentially mentally ill individual whose mother had taught him to shoot, keeping powerful weapons at their nearby home. His mother was his first victim before he proceeded to the school. The aftermath continues to ripple through American society, with a tearful visit to the site by President Obama, and gun rights advocates claiming that the scenes of first responders at the school and ensuing funerals were faked in order to smear gun control efforts.
5. November 5, 2017: First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas.
26 dead, 20 wounded. Churchgoers were killed during services by a lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle. The man, who was adjudicated a felon on domestic violence charges by an Air Force court-martial proceeding, should not have been eligible to purchase a firearm or ammunition but the Air Force did not report the conviction to authorities as required. It is thought that the church shooting was also a form of domestic violence as the gunman’s in-laws were expected to attend services. The gunman attacked people outside the church as well and was chased away by an armed civilian. He was found dead in his vehicle a few miles away following a car chase.
6. October 16, 1991: Luby’s cafeteria, Killeen, Texas.
24 dead, 27 wounded. A lone gunman drove his truck through the front window of a busy restaurant and opened fire with two handguns, allegedly shouting about his hatred of women. He moved through the restaurant, which was crowded with about 150 people during lunchtime, shooting individuals at close range. When police arrived they pinned him down in a hallway between the restrooms where patrons had barricaded themselves. He committed suicide. At the time, such mass shootings were rare and unusual events, easily attributed to mentally unbalanced individuals.
7. August 3, 2019: Walmart store, El Paso, Texas.
22 dead, 24 wounded. A young lone gunman was taken into custody by police after firing on customers and employees of a busy discount retail store with a semi-automatic rifle. He had posted an anti-immigrant rant online and claimed to target Mexicans, likely choosing the store for its proximity to the international border. Following the attack, gun control advocates called the violence an act of domestic terrorism stoked by white nationalist internet chat rooms.