The incredibly flawed FBI study on active shooters, CPRC original research

10 Oct , 2014  

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at  Saturday, October 4, 4.53 PM 1
Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at  Saturday, October 4, 4.53 PM

The figure using the FBI data pretty much summarizes their claim: from 2000 to 2013, fatalities from public shootings in the US have grown by an average annual rate of 16.4%. While the FBI report provides graphs illustrating “active shooting incidents,” not mass shootings, given the way that the report was written, the media has understandably interpreted the report as implying that mass public shootings have massively increased over time. To get a rough idea of the media coverage look at these headlines:

Mass Shootings on the Rise, FBI says,”Wall Street Journal

But instead of a 16 percent annual growth in fatalities, the actual growth rate is less than one percent and even that small growth rate is heavily dependent on just one year, 2012.   The Obama administration’s FBI report obtained its result by manipulating the data: including non-mass shootings, missing mass shooting cases, and selectively picking the period of time that they examined. Part of the abstract of the CRPC’s latest report describes what the Obama administration did:

But the FBI made a number of subtle and misleading decisions as well as outright errors. Once these biases and mistakes are fixed, the annual growth rate in homicides is cut in half. When a longer period of time is examined (1977 through the first half of 2014), deaths from Mass Public Shootings show only a slight, statistically insignificant, increase – an annual increase of less than one percent.

The FBI’s misleadingly includes cases that aren’t mass shootings – cases where no one or only one person was killed in a public place. While the FBI assures people that it “captured the vast majority of incidents falling within the search criteria,” their report missed 20 shootings where at least two people were killed in a public place. Most of these missing cases took place early on, biasing their results towards showing an increase.

The rest of the CPRC report is available here.  Given how broad the FBI’s measure of shootings is, it is useful to point out that murders have gone down significantly between 2000 and 2013, falling from 5.5 to 4.7 per 100,000 people.

Discussions of research at

Legal Insurrection.
Independent Journal Review.

Related discussions at The Criminologist (Mass Confusion concerning Mass Murder – The Criminologist) and Reason.com (available here).

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10 Responses

  1. […] its analysis of the FBI’s “active shooter incidents” report, CPRC contends that the FBI “made a number […]

  2. […] its analysis of the FBI’s “active shooter incidents” report, CPRC contends that the FBI “made a number […]

  3. […] its analysis of the FBI’s “active shooter incidents” report, CPRC contends that the FBI “made a number […]

  4. BizzyBlog says:

    […] comprehensively disemboweled (blog post; full report) the FBI study less than three weeks later, and identified several other […]

  5. […] comprehensively disemboweled (blog post; full report) the FBI study less than three weeks later, and identified several other […]

  6. […] comprehensively disemboweled (blog post; full report) the FBI study less than three weeks later, and identified several other […]

  7. […] acknowledged errors within the FBI report on public shootings.  As I wrote final October in a post at the Crime Prevention Research Center: Whereas the FBI report offers graphs illustrating “lively capturing incidents,” not […]

  8. […] worth noting that criminologist John Lott debunked the study almost immediately, while the report’s authors dithered for the better part of a year before […]

  9. Quora says:

    Why are some Americans still adamant towards tightening gun laws in spite of regular public shootings?

    “But the FBI made a number of subtle and misleading decisions as well as outright errors. Once these biases and mistakes are fixed, the annual growth rate in homicides is cut in half. When a longer period of time is examined (1977 through the first ha…

  10. Greg Schmidt says:

    Not usually surprised with skewed data interpretation, but in this case, it’s somewhat of a surprise since the FBI is not generally known to be anti-gun as far as I can tell. But higher crime rates mean more money for the agency, so in that sense, it really isn’t a shocker. Like everything else, follow the money and the truth will come out.

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