Based on The Shooting Cycle, my latest piece in the American Spectator offers a quick, but thorough analysis to show that mass shootings —as horrible and nightmarish as they are — are very rare, constitute a tiny sliver of homicides, and are not becoming more frequent. The article also considers some of the behavior economics as to why these shootings remain so salient. The debate over how to respond to gun violence is controversial and unlikely to yield solutions that will satisfy everyone. That said, any efforts that intend to strike a balance between safety, self-defense, and civil liberties must take account of these inconvenient truths.
Here are some of the key statistics:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that from 2002-2011, 95 percent of total homicide incidents involved a single fatality, 4 percent involved two victims, 0.6 percent involved 3 victims, and only .02 percent involved four or more victims. Another study performed between 1976 and 2005 yields similar results — that less than one-fifth of 1 percent all murders in the United States involved four or more victims. In other words, the bottom line is that out of every 10,000 incidents of homicide, roughly two are mass killings.
Further, contrary to what the zeitgeist may suggest, mass shootings are not on the rise. Prominent criminologist James Alan Fox has found “no upward trend in mass killings” since the ’70s. Take campus statistics as an example: “Overall in this country, there is an average of 10 to 20 murders across campuses in any given year,” Fox told CNN (and roughly 99 percent of these reported homicides were not mass shootings). “Compare that to over 1,000 suicides and about 1,500 deaths from binge drinking and drug overdoses.” Mass shootings on college campuses lag far, far behind many much more prevalent social and mental health problems.
The rare nature of these incidents also holds true for safety in K-12 schools, which garnered a significant amount of attention in the wake of the tragedies in Columbine and Newtown. According to two reports by the Centers for Disease Control, the probability of a child “dying in school in any given year from homicide or suicide was less than one in 1 million between 1992 and 1994 and slightly greater than one in 2 million between 1994 and 1999.”
And my conclusion:
No number of mass shootings can ever be deemed “acceptable,” and the public may legitimately ask whether stronger rules — on background checks, on involuntary mental health commitment — might avert future tragedy. But mass shootings occupy a disproportionately large share of discussion surrounding gun control, and the debate should turn on facts, not misconceptions.