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Mass shootings in the United States

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Total deaths in U.S. mass shootings from 1982–2012, shaded to indicate the beginning and end of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.[1]
Locations of US mass shootings in 2015, according to Shooting Tracker.

Mass shootings are incidents involving multiple victims of firearm-related violence. The precise inclusion criteria are disputed, and there is no broadly accepted definition.[2][3][4] One definition is an act of public firearm violence—excluding gang killings, domestic violence, or terrorist acts sponsored by an organization—in which a shooter kills at least four victims. Using this definition, one study found that nearly one-third of the world's public mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 (90 of 292 incidents) occurred in the United States.[5][6] Using a similar definition, The Washington Post records 163 mass shootings in the United States between 1967 and June 2019.[7]

Gun Violence Archive, frequently cited by the press, defines a mass shooting as firearm violence resulting in at least four people being shot at roughly the same time and location, excluding the perpetrator.[8][9] Using this definition, there have been 2,128 mass shootings since 2013, roughly one per day.[8][10]

According to some studies, the United States has had more mass shootings than any other country.[11][5][12][13][14] Shooters generally either die by suicide afterwards or are restrained or killed by law enforcement officers or civilians.[15] However, mass shootings accounted for less than 0.2% of all homicides in the United States between 2000 and 2016.[16]


There is no fixed definition of a mass shooting in the United States.[4][17] The Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, signed into law in January 2013, defines a "mass killing" as one resulting in at least 3 victims, excluding the perpetrator.[18][4][19][20] In 2015, the Congressional Research Service does not define a mass shooting but does define a public mass shooting—for the purposes of its report entitled “Mass Murder with Firearms”—as "a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity". The CRS further states that its report "attempts to refine the relatively broad concept of mass shooting [...] into a narrower formulation: public mass shootings." [21] A broader definition, as used by the Gun Violence Archive, is that of "4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter".[22] This definition, of four people shot regardless of whether or not that results in injury or death, is often used by the media, press, and non-profit organizations.[23][24][25][26][27]


Memorial at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which resulted in 58 people being killed and 422 non-fatal injuries.

Some studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur has tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014, that rate has accelerated greatly with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States.[28]

In recent years, the number of public mass shootings has increased substantially, although there has been an approximately 50% decrease in firearm homicides in the nation overall since 1993. The decrease in firearm homicides has been attributed to better policing, a better economy and environmental factors such as the removal of lead from gasoline.[29]

Differing sources[edit]

A comprehensive report by USA Today tracked all mass killings from 2006 through 2017 in which the perpetrator willfully killed 4 or more people. For mass killings by firearm for instance, it found 271 incidents with a total of 1,358 victims.[30] Mother Jones listed seven mass shootings, defined as indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims killed,[31] in the U.S. for 2015.[32] An analysis by Michael Bloomberg's gun violence prevention group, Everytown for Gun Safety, identified 110 mass shootings, defined as shootings in which at least four people were murdered with a firearm, between January 2009 and July 2014; at least 57% were related to domestic or family violence.[33][34]

Other media outlets have reported that hundreds of mass shootings take place in the United States in a single calendar year, citing a crowd-funded website known as Shooting Tracker which defines a mass shooting as having four or more people injured or killed.[25] In December 2015, The Washington Post reported that there had been 355 mass shootings in the United States so far that year.[35] In August 2015, The Washington Post reported that the United States was averaging one mass shooting per day.[36] An earlier report had indicated that in 2015 alone, there had been 294 mass shootings that killed or injured 1,464 people.[37] Shooting Tracker and Mass Shooting Tracker, the two sites that the media have been citing, have been criticized for using a broader criteria—counting four victims injured as a mass shooting—thus producing much higher figures.[38][39]


According to The New York Times, the majority of perpetrators they have published stories about are white males who act alone.[40] According to most analyses and studies, the proportion of mass shooters in the United States who are white is slightly less than the proportion of white people in the general population of the U.S., however the proportion of male mass shooters is considerably greater than the proportion of males.[41]

Contributing factors[edit]

Several possible factors may work together to create a fertile environment for mass murder in the United States.[42] Most commonly suggested include:

  1. Higher accessibility and ownership of guns.[42][5][13] The US has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world with 120.5 firearms per 100 people; the second highest is Yemen with 52.8 firearms per 100 people.[42]
  2. Mental illness[43] and its treatment (or the lack thereof) with psychiatric drugs.[44] This is controversial.[45][46] Many of the mass shooters in the U.S. suffered from mental illness, but the estimated number of mental illness cases has not increased as significantly as the number of mass shootings.[5]
  3. The desire to seek revenge for a long history of being bullied at school and/or at the workplace. In recent years, citizens calling themselves "targeted individual" have cited adult bullying campaigns as a reason for their deadly violence.[47]
  4. The widespread chronic gap between people's expectations for themselves and their actual achievement,[42] and individualistic culture.[48] Some analysts and commentators place the blame on contemporary capitalism and neoliberalism.[49][50][51]
  5. Desire for fame and notoriety.[42][5] Also, mass shooters learn from one another through "media contagion," that is, "the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims."[52][53]
  6. The copycat phenomenon.[5]
  7. Failure of government background checks due to incomplete databases and/or staff shortages.[54][55]

A panel of mental health and law enforcement experts has estimated that roughly one-third of acts of mass violence—defined as crimes in which four or more people were killed—since the 1990s were committed by people with a serious mental illness. However, the study emphasized that people with serious mental illness are responsible for less than 4% of all the violent acts committed in the United States.[16]

Weapons used[edit]

Several types of guns have been used in mass shootings in the United States. A 2014 study conducted by Dr. James Fox of 142 shootings found that 88 (62%) were committed with handguns of all types; 68 (48%) with semi-automatic handguns, 20 (14%) with revolvers, 35 (25%) with semi-automatic rifles, and 19 (13%) with shotguns.[56][57][58] The study was conducted using the Mother Jones database of mass shootings from 1982 to 2018.[59] High capacity magazines were used in approximately half of mass shootings.[60] Semi-automatic rifles have been used in six of the ten deadliest mass shooting events.[61][62]

Deadliest mass shootings since 1949[edit]

The following mass shootings are the deadliest to have occurred in modern U.S. history (1949 to present). Only incidents with ten or more victim fatalities are included.[63] The death tolls reflect the numbers given by police in the days after the shootings.

dagger Was previously the deadliest mass shooting
Incident Year Location Deaths Injuries Type of firearm(s) used Ref(s)
1 Las Vegas shooting 2017 Paradise, Nevada 58 (plus 1 perp.)[fn 1] 869 (413 from gunfire) Semi-automatic rifles (some outfitted with bump stocks), bolt-action rifle, and revolver [64][65][66]
2 Orlando nightclub shooting dagger 2016 Orlando, Florida 49 (plus 1 perp.) 58 (53 from gunfire) Semi-automatic rifle and pistol [64][65]
3 Virginia Tech shooting dagger 2007 Blacksburg, Virginia 32 (plus 1 perp.) 23 (17 from gunfire) Semi-automatic pistols [64]
4 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting 2012 Newtown, Connecticut 27 (plus 1 perp.) 2 Semi-automatic rifle and pistol [64]
5 Sutherland Springs church shooting 2017 Sutherland Springs, Texas 26 (plus 1 perp.)[fn 2] 20 Semi-automatic rifle [67][65]
6 Luby's shooting dagger 1991 Killeen, Texas 23 (plus 1 perp.) 27 Semi-automatic pistols [64]
7 El Paso Walmart shooting 2019 El Paso, Texas 23[fn 3] 23 Semi-automatic rifle [68][69][70]
8 San Ysidro McDonald's massacre dagger 1984 San Diego, California 21 (plus 1 perp.) 19 Semi-automatic carbine, pistols, and shotgun [64]
9 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting 2018 Parkland, Florida 17 17 Semi-automatic rifle [71]
10 University of Texas tower shooting dagger 1966 Austin, Texas 16 (plus 1 perp.)[fn 2][fn 4] 32 Bolt-action rifle, semi-automatic carbine, revolver, semi-automatic pistols, and pump-action shotgun [64]
11 Edmond post office shooting 1986 Edmond, Oklahoma 14 (plus 1 perp.) 6 Semi-automatic pistols [64]
San Bernardino attack 2015 San Bernardino, California 14 (plus 2 perps.) 24 Semi-automatic rifles [64][65]
Fort Hood shooting 2009 Killeen, Texas 14[fn 2] 32 (plus 1 perp.) Semi-automatic pistol and revolver [72][73]
14 Camden shootings dagger 1949 Camden, New Jersey 13 3 Semi-automatic pistol [74][75]
Wilkes-Barre shootings 1982 Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 13 1 Semi-automatic rifle [76][77][78]
Wah Mee massacre 1983 Seattle, Washington 13 1 Semi-automatic pistol(s) and/or revolver(s)[fn 5] [79]
Columbine High School massacre 1999 Columbine, Colorado 13 (plus 2 perps.) 24 (21 from gunfire) Semi-automatic carbine, semi-automatic pistol, shotguns [80]
Binghamton shootings 2009 Binghamton, New York 13 (plus 1 perp.) 4 Semi-automatic pistols [81]
19 Atlanta shootings 1999 Stockbridge and Atlanta, Georgia 12 (plus 1 perp.) 13 Pistol
Aurora theater shooting 2012 Aurora, Colorado 12 70 (58 from gunfire) Semi-automatic rifle, pistol, and shotgun [82][65][83]
Washington Navy Yard shooting 2013 Washington, D.C. 12 (plus 1 perp.) 8 (3 from gunfire) Semi-automatic pistol and shotgun [84][85]
Thousand Oaks shooting 2018 Thousand Oaks, California 12 (plus 1 perp.) 16 (1 from gunfire) Semi-automatic pistol [86][87]
Virginia Beach shooting 2019 Virginia Beach, Virginia 12 (plus 1 perp.) 4 Semi-automatic pistols [88]
24 Easter Sunday massacre 1975 Hamilton, Ohio 11 0 Semi-automatic pistols and revolver [89]
Pittsburgh synagogue shooting 2018 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 11 6 (plus 1 perp.) Semi-automatic rifle, semi-automatic pistols [90]
26 Palm Sunday massacre 1984 Brooklyn, New York 10 0 Semi-automatic pistols [91]
Geneva County massacre 2009 Geneva County, Alabama 10 (plus 1 perp.) 6 Semi-automatic rifles, revolver, and shotgun [92][93]
Santa Fe High School shooting 2018 Santa Fe, Texas 10 14 (plus 1 perp.) Shotgun and revolver [94]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ plus 2 victims who died due to complications in 2019 and 2020
  2. ^ a b c The fatality total includes an unborn child.
  3. ^ 1 victim died due to complications in 2020
  4. ^ plus 1 victim who died due to complications in 2001
  5. ^ During the massacre, the perpetrators used three .22 caliber handguns of an unknown type that were never recovered by the authorities.


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  2. ^ Borchers, Callum (October 4, 2017). "The squishy definition of 'mass shooting' complicates media coverage". Washington Post. Retrieved August 26, 2018. ...'mass shooting' is a term without a universally-accepted definition.
  3. ^ Bjelopera, Jerome (March 18, 2013). "Public Mass Shootings in the United States" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 9, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2018. There is no broadly agreed-to, specific conceptualization of this issue, so this report uses its own definition for public mass shootings.
  4. ^ a b c Greenberg, Jon; Jacobson, Louis; Valverde, Miriam (February 14, 2018). "What we know about mass shootings". PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved February 20, 2018. As noted above, there is no widely accepted definition of mass shootings. People use either broad or restrictive definitions of mass shootings to reinforce their stance on gun control. After the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Congress defined "mass killings" as three or more homicides in a single incident. The definition was intended to clarify when the U.S. Attorney General could assist state and local authorities in investigations of violent acts and shootings in places of public use.
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External links[edit]