The Trace: Handguns preferred by mass shooters

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

When the subject of mass shootings comes up, we find many out there who believe the solution to such things is an assault weapon ban. One of those is President Joe Biden.


However, Biden isn’t alone. A lot of people really think that weapons like the AR-15 are the preferred firearm of mass shooters as opposed to something like a handgun.

Yet it seems over at The Trace, which isn’t exactly a gun-friendly publication, they found something interesting.

So-called assault weapons aren’t the preferred firearm for mass shooters.

The Violence Project, a nonprofit that tracks mass shooting incidents, provides one of the most comprehensive databases of guns used in such attacks.

Before we get into the data, though, it’s important to note that The Violence Project looks at a narrow subset of mass shootings: those that occur in public places, take four or more lives, and have no connection to underlying criminal activity. That means it excludes domestic shootings that take place indoors, as well as shootings in which dozens of people are injured but not killed.

The organization’s data shows that handguns are, in fact, the gun of choice in such attacks. Of 190 incidents dating back to 1966, perpetrators in 80 percent of attacks used at least one handgun, while 28 percent used a semiautomatic assault weapon, like an AR-15 or its variants. Of those shooters who used an assault weapon, 73 percent also carried a handgun.


Interesting, isn’t it?

First, let’s talk about the caveat The Trace offered on this one. Namely, the numbers exclude certain kinds of shootings. This is very true, but it should be noted that in these cases, a handgun is even more likely to be used than an “assault weapon.”

Yet The Trace isn’t content to just look at the data and take it as it is. They have to try and find the most anti-gun point they can make, which means manipulating the data set to get what they want out of it.

However, when you look at more recent data, the picture starts to change. In the decade starting in 2010, some 34 percent of incidents involved an assault weapon, while 66 percent didn’t. And if you look at incidents in the last three years, assault weapons rifles have been used in 59 percent of mass shootings.

That corresponds significantly with the media going all-in on trying to push an assault weapon ban. It sure looks like the media may actually be responsible for the use of so-called assault weapons in mass shootings due to their fearmongering.

After all, tons of media reports claim these firearms are just so deadly. It’s not difficult to imagine a would-be mass shooter would decide his weapon of choice based on these public perceptions.


Yet overall, mass shooters have long preferred handguns.

But what about the “mass shooting” definition preferred by the media? They love to cite Gun Violence Archive, which has a much broader definition of such things. Did The Trace look at that one?

It sure did. Guess what they found? Pretty much what I said above about how the broader definition wouldn’t change much.

Another database, Gun Violence Archive, tracks shootings in near-real time through news clips and police reports. Over the last decade, 217 mass gun murders — defined as four or more people killed in a single incident — have been perpetrated with handguns, according to GVA, while 38 mass gun murders have been perpetrated with semiautomatic rifles or their variants.

The report further noted that handguns are used far more often in other gun-related crimes, with only about seven percent of those involving “assault weapons.”

I’ll give The Trace credit, this report isn’t exactly helpful to the gun control cause, all things considered. Sure, they try to massage it to be helpful, but they still ran it even though it’s not. The vilification of the AR-15 and similar rifles has been a priority for anti-Second Amendment groups. Data that shows these aren’t necessarily the preferred weapon of mass shooters historically suggests a few inconvenient things.


For one, even a complete and total ban on so-called assault weapons won’t stop mass shootings. When you’ve got a gun and no one else does, it doesn’t matter if it’s an AR-15 or a semi-auto pistol, you’re still able to do whatever you want to do, no matter how horrible.

As such, banning firearms is clearly not the answer to the issue.

What’s more, it sure looks like the media’s attempt at pushing an assault weapon ban is part of the reason why more and more mass shooters have started using these weapons.

Somehow, though, I don’t think that will impact reporting.

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