There is a lack of consensus on how to define a mass shooting. Most definitions describe a minimum of three or four deaths due to gun violence (not including the shooter), although an Australian study from 2006 prescribed a minimum of five; and added a requirement that the victims actually died as opposed to being shot and injured but not necessarily killed.
The Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 defines mass killings as three or more killings in a single incident, however the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 does not define mass shootings. Media outlets such as CNN and some crime violence research groups such as the Gun Violence Archive define mass shootings as involving "four or more shot (injured or killed) in a single incident, at the same general time and location, not including the shooter". Sometimes shootings involving three or more victims occur in non-public situations such as when one member of a family shoots all the other members in the family home. These killings are known as familicides and are not included in mass shooting statistics.
The motive for mass shootings (which occur in public situations) is a defining feature in that they are usually committed by deeply disgruntled individuals seeking revenge or payback for failures in school, career, romance and life in general. If multiple people are shot in a robbery or killed in a terrorist attack, these deaths are also not included under the definition of mass shootings.
- Under U.S. federal law, the Attorney General – on a request from a state – may assist in investigating “mass killings,” rather than mass shootings. The term is defined as the murder of four or more people with no cooling-off period but redefined by Congress in 2013 as being murder of three or more people.
- In “Behind the Bloodshed”, a report by USA Today, a mass killing is defined as: any incident in which four or more were killed, including familial killings. This definition is also used by the Washington Post, and similarly Mother Jones defined it as a single attack in a public place where four or more were killed, but have since 2013 changed the threshold to three or more victims being killed due to federal mandate used in an investigation on mass shootings that was initiated by former President Barack Obama.
- A crowdsourced data site cited by CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, the BBC, etc., Mass Shooting Tracker, defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are shot, whether injured or killed.
- According to the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, signed into law in January 2013, a mass killing is defined as a killing with at least three deaths, excluding the perpetrator.
- CBS defines that a mass shooting is an event involving the shooting (not necessarily resulting in death) of five or more people (sometimes four) with no cooling-off period.
- Crime violence research group Gun Violence Archive, whose research is used by all major American media outlets, defines mass shooting as “FOUR or more shot and killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter,” differentiating between mass shooting and mass murder and not counting shooters as victims.
- Though there are several different definitions of a mass shooting, there are also certain inclusions and exclusions. University of Pennsylvania says no matter how many people are killed, if a shooting occurs by a foreign terrorist that is not included. Another exclusion is if 10 people are shot but only 2 die. Also if 5 people are run over by a car that does not count because no firearm was used. Some inclusions are multiple deaths caused by an armed robbery. Deaths as a result of gang wars are also sometimes included.
An act of mass shooting is typically defined as terrorist when it “appears to have been intended” to intimidate or to coerce people; although a mass shooting is not, in itself, an act of terrorism.
By continent and region
Mass shootings have occurred on the African continent, including the 1927 shooting in South Africa perpetrated by Stephanus Swart, the 2016 Grand Bassam attack in Côte d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast, and the 1994 Kampala wedding massacre in Kampala, Uganda. Whilst incidents of mass violence resulting from terrorism and ethnic conflict have occurred on the continent, “mass shootings” as generally understood are rare in Africa.
Several mass shootings have occurred in Asia, including the 1878 Hyderabad shooting and 1983 Pashupatinath Temple shooting in India, the 1938 Tsuyama massacre in Japan, the 1948 Babrra massacre in Pakistan, the 1993 Chongqing shooting and the 1994 Tian Mingjian incident in China, as well as the 2001 Nepalese royal massacre.
One of the earliest documented cases of a mass shooting in world history was the 1878 Hyderabad shooting, in which 6 were killed and a further 4 were injured by a sepoy in the British Indian Army in Hyderabad, Sindh, British Raj.
Republic of Korea
Mass shootings are extremely rare in Korea. The only mass shooting in South Korea was committed by Woo Bum-kon, leaving 56 dead. For many years, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, until the 2011 Norway attacks surpassed it.
Japan has as few as two gun-related homicides per year. These numbers include all homicides in the country, not just mass shootings. The only mass shooting in Japanese history was the Tsuyama massacre.
There have been many mass shootings in Israel, including the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre, which killed 26 and injured 80, the 2002 Bat Mitzvah massacre in Hadera, Mercaz HaRav Massacre in 2008, the 2014 Jerusalem synagogue attack in Jerusalem and the June 2016 Tel Aviv shooting at the popular Sarona centre complex in Tel Aviv.
There have been two mass shootings by Jews in Israel. Ami Popper was convicted of murdering seven Palestinian men in a mass shooting carried out in 1990. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims worshipping and injuring a further 125 in Hebron. Also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.
There have been many mass shootings in Europe as well. Recent examples including the 1987 Hungerford massacre; the 1996 Dunblane massacre the 2010 Cumbria shootings; and the 2021 Plymouth shooting in the United Kingdom; the 1990 Puerto Hurraco massacre in Spain; the 2001 Zug massacre in Switzerland; the 2002 Erfurt school massacre, the 2009 Winnenden school shooting, the 2011 Frankfurt Airport shooting, the 2016 Munich shooting, and the 2020 Hanau shootings in Germany; the 2007 Jokela school shooting and the 2008 Kauhajoki school shooting in Finland; the 2010 Bratislava shooting in Slovakia; the 2011 Alphen aan den Rijn shopping mall shooting in The Netherlands; the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban shootings, the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks and the November 2015 Paris attacks in France; and the 2018 Macerata shooting in Italy. The deadliest mass shooting by a lone individual in modern history occurred in Europe with the 2011 Norway attacks in Norway, in which 77 people died. Of them 67 died of gunshot wounds. 8 other victims were killed by a bomb and 2 indirectly.
Notable mass shootings that occurred in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) and Russia include the Pogroms in the Russian Empire, 1992 Tatarstan shooting, the 2002 Yaroslavsky shooting, the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, the 2012 Moscow shooting and the 2014 Moscow school shooting, the 2004 Beslan school siege, the 2013 Belgorod shooting, the 2021 Kazan school shooting, and the 2021 Perm State University shooting.
Notable mass shootings in Canada include the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre (which led to stronger gun control in Canada), the 1992 Concordia University massacre, the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montreal, the 2012 Danzig Street shooting, the 2014 Edmonton killings in Edmonton, the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting in Quebec City, the 2018 Toronto shooting, and the 2020 Nova Scotia attacks. Following the attacks in Nova Scotia, which was the deadliest rampage in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau banned the use, sale, purchase, and import of AR-15s – the military-style semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting and many other shootings in the US.
The United States has had the most mass shootings of any country. In one 2017 study published in Time magazine by criminologist Adam Lankford, it was estimated that 31% of public mass shootings occur in the US, although it has only 5% of the world's population. The study concludes that “The United States and other nations with high firearm ownership rates may be particularly susceptible to future public mass shootings, even if they are relatively peaceful or mentally healthy according to other national indicators.”
Criminologist Gary Kleck criticized Lankford's findings, stating the study merely shows a proportional relationship, but fails to prove that gun ownership causes mass shootings. Kleck claims that Lankford has been unwilling to share a list of his cases, provide a list of the number of attacks per country, or even list his sources so that others can check his numbers. Backlash from economist and gun rights advocate John Lott also raised objections to Lankford's methodology and refusal to share his data. He speculated that Lankford had overlooked a significant number of mass shootings outside the US, which if accounted for would adjust the nation's share closer to 2.88%; slightly below the world average. Adam Lankford has since followed up on his research, clarifying that although the United States is not significantly more likely than most other countries to have mass shootings that are committed by more than one person, such as the university massacre in Kenya, the United States from 1998-2012 did in fact have more than six times its global share of public mass shooters who attacked alone. Using the data from Lott and Moody's 2019 study of mass shootings, Lankford explains that "41 of all 138 public mass shootings by single perpetrators worldwide were committed in the United States. That represents 29.7%. Because America had in those years approximately 4.5% of the world's population (according to Lott and Moody's calculations), this indicates that based on their own data, the United States had more than six times its global share of public mass shooters who attacked alone (29.7/4.5 = 6.6).
Mass shootings have also been observed to be followed by an increase in the purchase of weapons, but does not seem to create an increased feeling of needing guns in either gun owners or non-owners.
Notable mass shootings in Australia include the 1987 Hoddle Street massacre in Hoddle Street, Clifton Hill, Melbourne; and the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Port Arthur, Tasmania. There were 13 mass shootings with five or more deaths between 1979 and 1996, and three mass shootings involving four or more deaths have occurred since the introduction of new gun laws following the Port Arthur incident.
Notable mass shootings in New Zealand include the 1990 Aramoana massacre in which 14 people were killed (including the perpetrator) in Aramoana and the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in Christchurch, which resulted in 51 deaths and is the largest mass shooting in New Zealand history.
Victims and survivors
After mass shootings, some survivors have written about their experiences and their experiences have been covered by journalists. A survivor of the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church shooting wrote about his reaction to other mass shooting incidents. The father of a victim in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, wrote about witnessing other mass shootings after the loss of his son. The survivors of the 2011 Norway attacks recounted their experience to GQ magazine. In addition, one paper studied Swedish police officers’ reactions to a mass shooting.
Sex and ethnicity
The overwhelming majority of mass shooters in the U.S. are male, with some sources showing males account for 98% of mass shooters. According to Sky News, male perpetrators committed 110 out of 114 school shootings (96%) in the period 1982-2019, compared to homicides in general in the United States, where 85.3% of homicides were committed by males.
A study by Statista showed that 65 out of 116 (56%) U.S. mass shootings in a period from 1982 to 2019 involved "white" shooters, roughly in line with the roughly 60% of the U.S. population regarded as white in 2018. According to a database compiled by Mother Jones magazine, the race of the shooters is approximately proportionate to the overall U.S. population, although Asians are overrepresented and Latinos underrepresented.
A fact-checking review by PolitiFact suggests that although white male perpetrators are greatly over-represented compared to white males in the general U.S. population, this is more likely to be because of them being men, as opposed to them being white.
Criminal records and mental health
Criminologist James Allen Fox said that most mass murderers do not have a criminal record, or involuntary incarceration at a mental health centre, although an article in The New York Times in December 2015 about 15 recent mass shootings found that six perpetrators had had run-ins with law enforcement, and six had mental health issues.
Mass shootings can be motivated by religious extremism (e.g., Islamic extremism), political ideologies (e.g., neo-Nazism, terrorism), racism, sexual orientation, misogyny, mental illness, and extensive bullying, among other reasons. Forensic psychologist Stephen Ross cites extreme anger and the notion of working for a cause—rather than mental illness—as primary explanations. A study by Vanderbilt University researchers found that “fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.” John Roman of the Urban Institute argues that, while better access to mental health care, restricting high powered weapons, and creating a defensive infrastructure to combat terrorism are constructive, they do not address the greater issue, which is “we have a lot of really angry young men in our country and in the world.”
Author Dave Cullen, in his 2009 book Columbine on the infamous 1999 Columbine High School massacre and its perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, described Harris as an “injustice collector.” He expanded on the concept in a 2015 New Republic essay on injustice collectors, identifying several notorious killers as fitting the category, including Christopher Dorner, Elliot Rodger, Vester Flanagan, and Andrew Kehoe. Likewise, mass shooting expert and former FBI profiler Mary O’Toole also uses the phrase “injustice collector” in characterizing motives of some mass shooting perpetrators. In relation, criminologist James Alan Fox contends that mass murderers are “enabled by social isolation” and typically experience “years of disappointment and failure that produce a mix of profound hopelessness and deep-seated resentment.” Jillian Peterson, an assistant professor of criminology at Hamline University who is participating in the construction of a database on mass shooters, noted that two phenomena surface repeatedly in the statistics: hopelessness and a need for notoriety in life or in death. Notoriety was first suggested as a possible motive and researched by Justin Nutt. Nutt stated in a 2013 article, “those who feel nameless and as though no one will care or remember them when they are gone may feel doing something such as a school shooting will make sure they are remembered and listed in the history books.”
In a 2019 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Jillian Peterson and James Densley of The Violence Project think tank presented a new, hopeful, framework to understand mass shootings. Based on a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, Peterson and Densley found mass shooters had four things in common: (1) early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age; (2) an identifiable grievance or crisis point; (3) validation for their belief system, have studied past shootings to find inspiration; and (4) the means to carry out an attack. This new framework highlights the complexity of the pathway to a mass shooting, including how each one can be “socially contagious,” but also provides a blueprint to prevent the next mass shooting. Each one of the four themes represents an opportunity for intervention. By reducing access to firearms (means), slowing contagion (validation), training in crisis intervention de-escalation (crisis), and increasing access to affordable mental healthcare (trauma), a mass shooting can be averted.
In considering the frequency of mass shootings in the United States, criminologist Peter Squires says that the individualistic culture in the United States puts the country at greater risk for mass shootings than other countries, noting that “many other countries where gun ownership is high, such as Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Israel . . . tend to have more tight-knit societies where a strong social bond supports people through crises, and mass killings are fewer.” He is an advocate of gun control, but contends there is more to mass shootings than the prevalence of guns. The Italian Marxist academic Franco Berardi argues that the hyper-individualism, social alienation and competitiveness fomented by neoliberal ideology and capitalism creates mass shooters by causing people to “malfunction.”
Social science and family structure
A noteworthy connection has been reported in the U.S. between mass shootings and domestic or family violence, with a current or former intimate partner or family member killed in 76 of 133 cases (57%), and a perpetrator having previously been charged with domestic violence in 21.
Moynihan said that "almost all school shooters come from families where the parents are either divorced or alienated," and Cook argued that "perhaps they wouldn't need more gun control if they had better divorce control."
Some people have considered whether media attention revolving around the perpetrators of mass shootings is a factor in sparking further incidents. In response to this, some in law enforcement have decided against naming mass shooting suspects in media-related events to avoid giving them notoriety.
The effects of messages used in the coverage of mass shootings has been studied. Researchers studied the role the coverage plays in shaping attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and public support for gun control policies.
In 2015, a paper written by a physicist and statistician, Sherry Towers, along with four colleagues was published, which proved that there is indeed mass shooting contagion using mathematical modeling. However, in 2017, Towers said in an interview that she prefers self-regulation to censorship to address this issue, just like years ago major news outlets successfully prevent copycat suicide.
In 2016, the American Psychological Association published a press release, claiming that mass shooting contagion does exist and news media and social media enthusiasts should withhold the name(s) and face(s) of the victimizer(s) when reporting a mass shooting to deny the fame the shooter(s) want to curb contagion.
Some news media have weighed in on the gun control debate. After the 2015 San Bernardino attack, the New York Daily News' front-page headline "God isn't fixing this" was accompanied by "images of tweets from leading Republicans who shared their 'thoughts' and 'prayers' for the shooting victims." Since the 2014 Isla Vista killings, satirical news website The Onion has repeatedly republished the story "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens" with minor edits after major mass shootings, to satirise the popular consensus that there is a lack of political power in the United States to prevent mass shootings.
Gun law reform
Responses to mass shootings take a variety of forms, depending on the country and political climate.
As a result of the Hungerford massacre in Hungerford, England, and the Dunblane school massacre in Stirling, Scotland, the United Kingdom enacted tough gun laws and a buyback program to remove specific classes of firearms from private ownership. They included the Firearms Amendment Act 1988, which limited rifles and shotguns; and the 1997 Firearms Amendment Acts, which restricted or made illegal many handguns. There have been two mass shootings since the laws were restricted: the Cumbria shootings in 2010, which killed 13 people, including the perpetrator; and the Plymouth shooting in 2021, which killed six people, including the perpetrator.
In the United States, support for gun law reform varies considerably by political party, with Democrats generally more supportive and Republicans generally more opposed. Some in the U.S. believe that tightening gun laws would prevent future mass shootings. Some politicians in the U.S. introduced legislation to reform the background check system for purchasing a gun. A vast majority of Americans support tighter background checks. "According to a poll by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, 93 percent of registered voters said they would support universal background checks for all gun buyers."
Others contend that mass shootings should not be the main focus in the gun law reform debate because these shootings account for less than one percent of the U.S. homicide rate and believe that these shootings are hard to stop. They often argue that civilians with concealed guns will be able to stop shootings.
According to British criminologist Peter Squires, who has studied gun violence in different countries, mass shootings may be more due to the "individualistic culture" in the U.S. than its firearm laws.
As of June 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken in the aftermath of fourteen mass shootings during his eight-year presidency, repeatedly calling for more gun safety laws in the United States. After the Charleston church shooting, Obama said, "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency." After the 2015 San Bernardino attack, Obama renewed his call for reforming gun-safety laws and also said that the frequency of mass shootings in the United States has "no parallel in the world." After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the surviving students, teachers, and parents became strong leaders in the effort to ban assault weapon sales and easy accessibility to weapons.
- Category:Mass shootings by country
- Active shooter
- Copycat crime
- Mass murder
- School shooting
- Spree killer
- Domestic terrorism
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