Dr. John Lott’s newest piece in the Los Angeles Times describes research in his new book, The War on Guns.
Many believe that the United States is unique in terms of mass public shootings. Even after the attacks last November that left 130 dead in Paris, President Obama had the gall to claim, “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.”
It fits the narrative, as Hillary Clinton said recently, that our mass public shootings “are rooted in the much too readily available weapons of mass killings, usually assault weapons.” If the U.S. would only adopt the types of gun control laws that exist in other countries, this problem would supposedly go away.
But we shouldn’t let Obama and Clinton’s vague impressions dictate policy. To get a handle on how the U.S. really compares to the rest of the world, what’s important to know is whether Americans are more at risk of dying in a mass public shooting than foreigners. And to find out, we need to adjust for population, just as we do for “ordinary” murder rates. (It’s not illuminating to compare the raw number of homicides in a big city like Los Angeles and some small town.)
Traditionally, the FBI defines a mass public shooting as four or more deaths in a public place that are not part of some other crime, such as a robbery. That definition tries to pick up on the sorts of cases that rivet our attention. Shocking events — school or nightclub shootings – where the purpose is to kill lots of people and generate lots of media attention.
Along with several colleagues, I compiled a list of these cases in the U.S and the European Union, including the United Kingdom. We relied on Nexis and other news aggregators as well as national police reports and the University of Maryland’s “Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.”
Using the traditional FBI definition, the EU and the U.S. each experienced 25 mass shootings during the first seven years of Obama’s presidency (January 2009 to December 2015). . . .
A link to the seven letters to the editor that were published in the Los Angeles Times is available here.