For those interested, Snopes.com has given this research below a “mixed” rating. For a discussion of Snopes.com’s claims and our response see here.
Updated January 7, 2016: 1) In his address to the nation after the Planned Parenthood attack, Obama claimed: “I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings: This just doesn’t happen in other countries.”
Senator Harry Reid made a similar statement on June 23rd: “The United States is the only advanced country where this type of mass violence occurs. Let’s do something. We can expand, for example, background checks. … We should support not giving guns to people who are mentally ill and felons.”
We prefer not to make purely cross-sectional comparisons, but this claim is simply not true. The data below looks at the period of time from the beginning of the Obama administration in January 2009 until the end of 2015. Mass public shootings – defined as four or more people killed in a public place, and not in the course of committing another crime, and not involving struggles over sovereignty. The focus on excluding shootings that do not involve other crimes (e.g., gang fights or robberies) has been used from the original research by Lott and Landes to more recently the FBI. We cover the period from the beginning of the Obama administration to the current date, from 2009 to the Charleston massacre (this matches the starting period for another recent study we did on US shootings and we chose that because that was the starting point that Bloomberg’s group had picked). The cases were complied doing a news search. The starting year was picked simply because Obama was making this claim and 2009 was the beginning of the Obama administration. It also matched the time frame of a recent Bloomberg report (a report that we evaluated here). (The federal government recently changed the FBI definition to 3 or more from the traditional 4 or more definition that had been in place for decades, but because the Bloomberg report, most academics, and all our data is in terms of four or more we will continue to use the traditional definition.) A comparison across the entire world from 1970 to today is available here.
Some people have defended President Obama’s statement by pointing to the word “frequency.” But, even if one puts it in terms of frequency, the president’s statement is still false, with the US ranking 12th compared to European countries.
Click on Tables to Enlarge
The average incident rate for the 28 EU countries is 0.0602 with a 95% confidence Interval of .0257 to .09477. The US rate is 0.078 is higher than the EU rate, but US and the average for EU countries are not statistically different. The average fatality rate for the 28 EU countries is 0.114 with a 95% confidence Interval of -.0244 to .253. The US rate is 0.089 is lower than the EU rate, but they are again not statistically significantly different.
There were 27% more casualties per capita from mass public shootings in EU than US from 2009-15
The CPRC has also collected data on the worst mass public shootings, those cases where at least 15 people were killed in the attack.
There were 16 cases where at least 15 people were killed. Out of those cases, four were in the United States, two in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
But the U.S. has a population four times greater than Germany’s and five times the U.K.’s, so on a per-capita basis the U.S. ranks low in comparison — actually, those two countries would have had a frequency of attacks 1.96 (Germany) and 2.46 (UK) times higher.
Small countries such as Norway, Israel and Australia may have only one major attack each, one-fourth of what the U.S. has suffered, but the US population is vastly greater. If they suffered attacks at a rate adjusted for their population, Norway, Israel and Australia would have had attacks that were respectively 16, 11, and 3 times greater than the US.
There is also the issue of what President Obama meant by “mass violence.” If you include bombings, many countries face many more bombings than the US does. On March 22nd, 2016, Belgium had a bombing attacks at an airport and subway that killed 31 people and wounded 180. That is worse than any mass public shooting in the US in terms of fatalities and woundings. Or take just the bombing cases in Russia. Russia had few mass public shootings, but it suffered from numerous bomb attacks, with 1.31 mass bombing murders per million people.
Regarding worldwide terrorism rates, the US State Department has these number for 2007 to 2011. Click on figure to enlarge.
2) From Post on June 23, 2015: Last Friday, Obama said: “If congress had passed some common sense gun reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom. Reforms that 90% of the American people supported, we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most, we don’t know if it would have prevented what would have happened in Charleston, but we might still have some more Americans with us.”
— There is no evidence that 90% of Americans supported the reforms that Obama was pushing. It is true that 80% to 90% of Americans say that they support background checks on “all gun buyers” (see also here and here), but that is not the same as saying that they supported universal background checks and it is not the same thing as them saying that they supported the law that Obama wanted. When asked this question people may be thinking of guns being purchased at a store and possibly a gun show, but it isn’t at all clear that they are talking about a transfer between friends (either a gift or a sale) and it is very doubtful that they are referring to transfers between family members. Surveys that specifically address the background check bill before the Senate in 2013 do not show overwhelming support. The most support that I can find for such a bill was in Washington State where initiative 594 was passed with 59% support, not 90%, and it had spending that out did the initiative’s opponents by about 33-to-1.
— None of the laws that Obama has put forward would have had any impact on either Newtown or Charleston. The Charleston killer apparently did pass a background check, and, in any case, he obtained his gun by stealing it from his Mom.
On Monday, June 22nd, President Obama made similar comments and also added: “And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic commonsense gun safety laws that, by the way, the majority of gun owners support.” This claim has the same problem that Obama’s other statement has.
3) From Post on June 23, 2015: Here is another claim by Obama from last Friday: “You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth.”
Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post has this useful discussion on an earlier similar claim by Obama.
The best proxy for “industrialized countries” is the membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. There are currently 34 countries in the OECD, but the agency also includes Brazil and Russia in its statistical data. (The two countries have been negotiating for membership but talks have been suspended with Russia because of the Crimea crisis.)
The OECD says the average homicide rate among the 36 countries is 4.1 per 100,000 people.
According to the 2014 data, at the top of the list is Brazil, with a homicide rate 25.5, or six times the average. Next on the list is Mexico, with a homicide rate of 23.4, followed by Russia at 12.8.
Then comes a tie for fourth place—Chile and the United States both have a homicide rate of 5.2. Estonia follows close behind with a homicide rate of 4.7. . . .
UPDATED: here is a comparison that breaks down these rates by US states and European countries.
UPDATE: Politifact has discussion on fatality rates from mass public shootings, where they rank the US as the fourth highest country. Their analysis looks at data from 2000 to 2014, but it is clear that their analysis is flawed. They have a much broader definition of these attacks where they included cases where no one was killed. Still they are missing a large number of cases in foreign countries, even when one is looking cases where 4 or more people were killed.
For example for France, they claim that from 2000 to 2014 there is only one such shooting and eight people were killed in that case. They missed at least 16 deaths in just cases where four or more people have been killed. We have also added in a few cases prior to 2000. However, we do not believe that we have obtained more than a fraction of the mass public shootings in Europe prior to 2009.
Orly Airport, France, May 20, 1978: 4 killed and 5 wounded when three terrorists opened fire on El Al passengers in the departure lounge of the airport.Paris, France, August 9, 1982: 6 killed and 22 wounded in an attack at a Jewish Restaurant by the Abu Nidal Organization .Bayonne, France, September 25, 1985: 4 killed and one wounded A terrorist attack at the Monbar Hotel where four Basques were killed by the group GAL (“Antiterrorist Liberation Groups”).Paris, France, October 4, 1994: 4 killed. Florence Rey was a 19 year old student studying philosophy at the Science-Po.Cuers, France, September 24, 1995: Éric Borel shot to death 12 people and wounded 4 others while walking down a street in the town of Cuers. He has killed three members of his family the previous day.Tours, France, Oct. 29, 2001: Four people were killed and ten wounded when a French railway worker started shooting at a busy intersectionNanterre, France, March 27, 2002: 8 deaths, 19 injured Gunman opened fire at a town council meetingToulouse, France, March 19, 2012: Four shot dead at Jewish school in France. Three others were killed at Montauban.Trèbes, France, March 23, 2018: A gunman affiliated with ISIS arrived in Trèbes and shot at a group of police officers who were jogging. Then, he attacked a supermarket, where three people were killed and others were injured. A total of four were killed and 15 wounded. He had originally stolen a car in Carcassonne where he killed the car’s passenger and wounded the driver.There are also other attacks in France that met their criteria, but we would not normally collect (more cases here)Toulouse, France, March 15, 2012: Two French soldiers killed and one critically injured, other minor injuries in drive-by street shootingChamps-élysées, France, April 20, 2017: An Islamist opened fire on police officers on the Champs-Elysees. ISIS claimed responsibility.
Munich, Germany, September 5, 1972: 12 people killed by eight armed terrorists who attacked the Israeli Olympic team. 11 Israelis were killed and one police officer.Cologne, Germany, September 5, 1977: The Red Army Faction killed five people when they attacked a chauffeured car carrying Hanns Martin Schleyer, then president of the German employers’ association, in Cologne. Four masked RAF members sprayed bullets into the two vehicles, killing Marcisz and a police officer, Roland Pieler. The driver of the police escort vehicle, Reinhold Brändle, and a third police officer, Helmut Ulmer, were also killed.Berlin, Germany, September 17, 1992: 4 killed, one wounded. Masked gunmen burst into a Berlin restaurant late on a Thursday night and killed four men, including a leading Kurdish politician from Iran.Erfurt, Germany, April 26, 2002: A former student killed 17, one non-fatal injury at a secondary school.Freising, Germany, Feb. 19, 2002: Four people are deadSittensen, Germany, February 4, 2007: Six people killed — Likely gang shooting so not included.Winnenden, Germany, March 11, 2009: 15 deaths, 9 woundedMunich, Germany, July 22, 2016: 9 deaths, 16 wounded by Iranian who yelled “Allahu Akbar” when he did the attack
Zug, Switzerland, Sept. 27, 2001: A man whose lawsuits had been denied murdered 14 members of a cantonal parliament.
Rome, Italy, December 17, 1973: 33 killed and 20+ injured. Black September Terrorists attacked airport and airplane.Rome, Italy, December 27, 1985: 16 killed and 99 injured. Abu Nidal Organization attacked the ticket counter for Israel’s El Al Airlines.
Aalst, Belgium, November 9, 1985: 8 Killed, 7 wounded. “A particularly psychopathic group of criminals without any ulterior motive.” Main emphasis was on killing people though they would also commit “petty crimes.” In this crime, these killers were described as shooting “at anything that moved.”
Madrid, Spain, January 24, 1977: 5 killed and 4 wounded. Members of the Spanish Communist Party, labor lawyers, were killed by far right wing activists.Zarautz, Spain, November 3, 1980: 5 killed and 5 wounded. Base separatists killed traffic department workers who were drinking at a bar in the town. Arguably shouldn’t be included because it may be involving struggles over sovereignty.
Tatarstan, hunting camp, April 26, 1992: 9 killed and 1 wounded. The 1992 Tatarstan shooting was a mass murder. On 26 April 1992, 23-year-old Andrey Shpagonov, former huntsman went to a hunting camp. He went to steal firearms.Yaroslavsky, Primorsky Krai, August 25, 2002: 5 killed and 10 wounded. The Yaroslavsky shooting was a mass murder that occurred in Yaroslavsky, Primorsky Krai, Russia on August 25, 2002, when 40-year-old police captain Sergey Semidovskiy (Russian: Сергей Семидовский) killed five people and wounded ten others in and outside a bar with a Saiga carbine, after an argument with several customers.Kizlyar, Republic of Dagestan, February 18, 2018: “Five women were killed and several others were injured after a gunman opened fire with a hunting rifle on people leaving a church service in Russia’s Dagestan region on Sunday, Russian media outlets reported.”
Lipnaca, Bosnia-Herzegovina, May 29, 2008: six killed and one wounded
Jabukovac, Serbia, July 27, 2007: Nine killed and three wounded
Mumbai, India, November 26th to 29th, 2008: Islamic terror group based in Pakistan named Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) killed164 and wounded 308.Jammu, India, July 22, 2002: Islamic militants killed 27 Hindus and injured at least 30 others, some critically
Gujarat, India, September 24 and 25 2002: To terrorists attacked the Akshardham temple complex and killed 31 people and wounded 80 others by using automatic weapons and hand grenades
Osun State, Nigeria, Saturday, July 10, 1999: The Black Axe Confraternity attacked students at the Obafemi Awolowo University and killing five people and injuring of eleven.
Mamudo, Yobe State, Nigeria, July 6, 2013: Islamic group Boko Haram killed 42 children and teachers at a boarding school.
Gujba, Yobe State, Nigeria, September 29, 2013: gunmen from the Islamic group Boko Haram entered the male dormitory in the College of Agriculture and killed “as many as 50 dead.” Most of the dead were Muslim college students.
Borno massacre, in Konduga, Borno State, on February 14, 2014: Boko Haram Islamic militants killed at least 121 Christian villagers.
Izghe, Borno State, February 15, 2014: Islamic group Boko Haram killed 105 men and 1 elderly woman
Yobe State, Nigeria, February 25, 2014: 59 boys were killed at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi. The boys were separated from the girls and the young girls were told to get married at a very early age.
Gamboru and Ngala in Borno State, Nigeria, May 5 and 6, 2014: Boko Haram Islamic militants killed more than 300 residents.
Borno massacre, in Konduga, Borno State, on May 7, 2014: Boko Haram Islamic militants killed at least 200 Christian villagers. Several others were injured.
Manila, Philippines, December 20, 2013: Philippines mayor and 3 others killed in shooting at Manila airport. “[D]ead include Ukol Talumpa, the mayor of Labangan, a town in the southern Philippines, and his wife and 28-year-old niece, said Supt. Jose Erwin Villacorte, director of the Manila region’s Southern Police District.”
Kawit, Cavite, Philippines, January 4, 2013: Ronald Baquiran Bae shot to death 8 people and wounded 12 others. “On Jan. 4, a failed local candidate opened fire on his village neighbors, killing 8 people — including a pregnant woman and child — and wounding 10.”
Ipil, Philippines, April 3, 1995: The Islamic Command Council fired on residents and took hostages. 53 civilians killed. Not clear that this should be classified with the other cases because much of the attack involved robbing of eight banks.
Maguindanao, Mindanao, Philippines, November 23, 2009: Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and his clan (a “leading Muslim political clan“) attacked Esmael Mangudadatu’s family members and supporters, and accompanying journalists. 57 killed (34 were journalists) and at least 4 wounded. The victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and killed.
Digos, Davao Del Sur, Philippines, June 25, 1989: 39 people, many of them children, were mercilessly gunned-down by the communist New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) rebels while they were attending a Sunday mass. This appears to be a battle over sovereignty.
Baku, Azerbaijan, April 30, 2009: Farda Gadirov shot to death 12 people (students and staff) at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 7, 2011: Wellington Menezes de Oliveira shot to death 12 children between the ages of 12 and 14 at the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School
Tel Aviv, Israel, June 7, 2016: Two attackers were both dressed as Orthodox Jews started shooting at around 10 p.m. local time in an upscale area of cafes and restaurants near the central military headquarters and Defense Ministry compound. At least 4 died.