The Washington Times’ Extensive Discussion of Our Research on Mass Public Shooters.

Feb 5, 2024 | Media Coverage

Stephen Dinan has a new article that extensively discusses our recent research on Mass Public Shooters. While we greatly appreciate the piece, there are a couple points that could be clearer.

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— Our definition of mass public shootings is not arbitrary. As we note in our report, “The FBI active shooting reports concentrate on shootings that occur in public and do not involve some other crime such as robbery. Traditionally, the FBI has classified “mass” as four or more people being murdered. Academic studies have used a similar definition.”

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— The Gun Violence Archive says that they looked at four or more people injured and/or killed, but, as we note in our report, they do include instances with three or more injured. And, just as importantly, injured is not the same as wounded.

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— As we have about multiple times, the Gun Violence Archive is a gun control group that went so far as lobbying the Centers for Disease Control to stop publishing research on rates of defensive gun use on their website because it “has been used so often to stop [gun control] legislation,” a consideration that seems inappropriate for a scientific organization to consider. Of course, it was an argument inappropriate for the GVA to make.

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The national gun control debate focuses heavily on AR-15-style rifles, but handguns have been used in most mass public shootings over the past 25 years, according to myth-busting data from the Crime Prevention Research Center.

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Shootings primarily took place in what the center said are supposed to be “gun-free zones” according to the law, and none of the shootings from 1998 to 2023 would have been stopped by requiring universal background checks, said John R. Lott Jr., the center’s founder and author of the report.

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The study said Black and Middle Eastern shooters significantly outstrip their percentage of the population, and Hispanics are disproportionately victimized in the shootings.

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Mr. Lott calculated 101 mass public shootings from 1998 to 2023, far less than the hundreds of cases per year that media and politicians often cite.

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The trend line is ticking up, with eight mass public shootings each in 2021 and 2022 and seven through Oct. 25, 2023, Mr. Lott’s data cutoff.

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He said the deaths have plateaued at 51 to 61 total in each of the past three years. The worst year for public mass shootings — 2017, when the Las Vegas attack slaughtered 60 people — ended with 94 total deaths.

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He said his intention is not to minimize gun violence but to put the random shootings that get the most attention into proper context. He said these scary assaults are not as common as Americans have been led to think.

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“The number of mass public shootings that you see each year is from one to eight. That’s a very different number than what you see that the media covers all the time,” Mr. Lott said. “The causes and solutions for these mass public shootings are very different.”

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The problem is one of definitions.

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The Gun Violence Archive, the source many journalists use, has counted more than 600 mass shootings each year this decade, up from 300 to 400 per year from 205 in 2018. That includes all gun-related incidents in which four or more people are wounded or killed, whether in public or private, including gang shootouts and robberies.

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Mr. Lott says the archive mixes common violence, such as crimes gone bad, with the random school massacres in places such as Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that draw media coverage and frighten people the most.

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“The big thing that irritates me is you have somebody like [President] Biden go and say, ‘We have Uvalde, and we’ve had 600 more attacks like this,’” Mr. Lott said. “That’s simply false because they’re just putting apples and oranges together.”

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He said the FBI’s definition of mass shooting is more strict than that of the Gun Violence Archive, which requires at least four deaths, not just injuries, and he said the archive sometimes counts wrong cases.

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Mark Bryant, founding executive director at the Gun Violence Archive, said Mr. Lott was “trying to minimize the scope of shootings” by slicing and dicing what counts as a mass shooting. He said the archive delivers data from which people can draw conclusions.

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“We don’t put caveats into our numbers for two reasons,” Mr. Bryant said. “First, it minimizes the impacts on some people who were ‘only injured’ and also, no matter how we filter, someone would complain.

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“So it is best to look at open records without filters and let the reporter or politician or advocate make the decision as to which are important to them. That can’t happen if you winnow the number from the get-go, leaving out many incidents,” he said.

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He said the Gun Violence Archive is continually refining its data and correcting entries, such as removing a person from the victim list who turned out to be a suspect or updating a shooting in the database if it turns out to be an incident “where everyone was both a victim and a suspect.”

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Mr. Bryant said Mr. Lott, while complaining about the Gun Violence Archive trying to make mass shootings look prevalent, was doing the exact opposite by trying to “make the data look as small as possible to avoid gun regulations.”

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“GVA’s position is simple. We mark up each gun violence incident based on the criteria it presents,” he said. “Mass Shooting is just 6% of the work we collect, and whether you call it mass shooting or not, the same number of people were shot in the same number of incidents.”

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Shooter Demographics

Mr. Lott said his findings challenge other common narratives surrounding mass shootings, including who is shooting and who is getting shot.

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His database shows that non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 55% of the shooters and 55% of victims, or about equal to their share of the total U.S. population in 2022.

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Hispanics represented just 11% of shooters, a bit less than their share of the 2022 population, but accounted for 17% of victims. Black Americans were the opposite: 17% of shooters but just 10% of victims of mass public shootings.

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Mr. Lott separated those of Middle Eastern origin — usually included as part of the White population — and said they constituted nearly 7% of shooters but less than 1% of victims.

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Asian Americans accounted for about 8% of shooters and about 10% of victims.

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Mr. Lott said those findings undercut the sense that mass shootings are frequently White supremacists shooting up minority-heavy locations.

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“This mantra of who are the shooters and who are the victims — it just doesn’t match up,” he said.

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The data on transgender shooters doesn’t go back as far, but Mr. Lott calculated that they constituted one 1 of every 20 shooters from 2018 to 2023. He said that was far more than their share of the population, which he put at roughly three-quarters of a percent after averaging three prominent estimates.

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Mr. Lott said the data also challenges a notion popular among conservatives that mass shootings result from mental health issues. He said roughly half of the shooters had seen a mental health professional, yet they were not identified as dangers.

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“If you can’t identify these individuals beforehand, what’s your backup plan to stop these attacks?” Mr. Lott said.

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Among other findings, he said 20% of mass public shooters served in the military.

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Most shooters didn’t survive the attacks, with 43% dying by suicide and 17% killed by police.

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Stephen Dinan, “Data shows most mass public shooters used handguns, not ‘assault rifles’,” Washington Times, February 4, 2024.

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