Mass shootings seem to be happening a lot more frequently here lately. From Las Vegas to Sutherland Springs to Parkland to Santa Fe High School to…just so many to count. It’s bad.
Now, it’s easy to wonder whether the problem is actually growing or whether or not it’s just the media latching onto these reports more often. After all, by some measures, there’s dozens of mass killings each month yet we only hear about a handful. It’s easy to figure the media is manipulating things to push an anti-gun narrative.
However, the Los Angeles Times took a look and found something alarming.
If you look at mass shootings over time, two things are alarmingly clear: The attacks are becoming far more frequent, and they are getting deadlier.
We’ve studied every public mass shooting since 1966 for a project funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. Our research spans more than 50 years, yet 20% of the 164 cases in our database occurred in the last five years. More than half of the shootings have occurred since 2000 and 33% since 2010. The deadliest years yet were 2017 and 2018, and this year is shaping up to rival them, with at least 60 killed in mass shootings, 38 of them in the last five weeks.
The death count per shooting is also rising dramatically. Sixteen of the 20 most deadly mass shootings in modern history occurred in the last 20 years, eight of them in the last five years, including the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that claimed an unprecedented 58 lives.
For decades, the toll of mass shootings has risen steadily. During the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of 5.7 lives per year. In the 1980s, the average rose to 14. In the 1990s it reached 21; in the 2000s, 23.5. This decade has seen a far sharper rise. Today, the average is 51 deaths per year.
Mass shootings still represent just one-half of 1% of the more than 14,000 firearm-caused homicides per year in the United States, but while the number of homicides overall has declined in recent years, the number of mass shootings continues to surge.
The L.A. Times uses the Congressional Research Service definition of “mass killing” of four or more people being killed at a single event. This keeps some of the gang-related shootings from muddying the waters on this as those incidents result in a lot of people shot, but relatively few people killed.
Also, while they’re clearly part of the media, they’ve been better on accurately counting mass shootings than many others in the media. Their numbers are good and while you can’t just take them at face value, they’re good enough for our purposes.
So just what does this mean?
Well, it means that these attacks are happening more often and they’re more deadly than they used to be. Most likely, it’s because potential killers are learning from those who came before them. They’re learning to be more efficient monsters.
However, it should be noted that remarkably little has happened in the way of gun law liberalization that could be blamed for this increase. While constitutional carry support has increased across the nation, there’s been nothing to suggest that such a law has contributed in any way, shape, or form.
In other words, the problem is getting worse and no one really knows why. We do know, though, that it is getting worse.