Are mass killings on the rise?
It depends, apparently, on how you define mass killings.
In a December article, Mother Jones magazine provided a "Guide to Mass Shootings in America," including last year's killings at an office in Minneapolis.
Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings* across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Twenty-five of these mass shootings have occurred since 2006, and seven of them took place in 2012. We've mapped them below, including details on the shooters' identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.
That statistic has been cited several times since by news organizations in the ongoing debate over gun control since the Newtown, CT massacre.
It's wrong, Prof. James Fox, a criminilogist, writes today on Boston.com. He looked at Mother Jones' methodology and found the magazine had eliminated mass shootings in the past. For example, he says, Mother Jones included "the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese robbery/massacre of four people committed by a former employee, but excluded the Brown's Chicken robbery/massacre of seven victims that occurred the very same year, presumably because two perpetrators were involved in the latter incident or perhaps because these gunmen had no prior connection to the restaurant."
He also says the magazine eliminated massacres involving family members.
But Fox provides a chart showing no upward trend in mass killings in this country.
According to these expanded figures, there have been, on average, nearly 20 mass shootings a year in the United States. Most, of course, were nowhere as deadly as the recent massacres in Colorado and Connecticut that have countless Americans believing that a new epidemic is upon us and have encouraged healthy debate concerning causes and solutions. Notwithstanding the awful tragedies of this past year, there has been no upward trend in mass shootings.
What is abundantly clear from the full array of mass shootings, besides the lack of any trend upward or downward, is the largely random variability in the annual counts. There have been several points in time when journalists and others have speculated about a possible epidemic in response to a flurry of high profile shootings. Yet these speculations have always proven to be incorrect when subsequent years reveal more moderate levels.
Given the inconsistent pattern -- and rarity -- of mass shootings in the country, Fox says, it will be difficult to determine whether any laws to reduce them worked.
On that score today at the Capitol, a host of gun control measures were introduced in Minnesota. They include tougher laws for transferring guns to ineligible people, a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and mental health screening for people applying for firearms permits.
My understanding of the facts is this:
Gun violence in the US has been on a downward trend since 1994 when the Brady bill went into effect.
When the assault weapons ban expired in 2004 the downward trend continued. (there was a slight upward tick from 2002 to 2005, but overall I'm comfortable saying it's downward still)
looking at the chart above, neither of these years seem to be the start or end of a significant trend... (though I was skeptical at first when you had a chart presented by "Fox" but it was ok when it clicked that it wasn't Fox news.)
So it seems like the Brady bill worked... The assault weapons ban didn't do much.... how do we expand on the success of the Brady bill? Sounds like more background checks would be a good start...
The gun story I found most interesting today came from CNN and stated that there is a serious problem with state and local governments updating the federal database that is used to perform background checks with mental health records.
I personally don't believe we'll see any changes in the frequency of these tragedies until we address the underlying problem of mental health. Far too many of these shooters, if not all of them, have serious mental health issues and it must become a priority for state and local government to update the federal database. That they are failing to do so at this point is nothing short of shameful.
// until we address the underlying problem of mental health
I'm truly conflicted by this, and, as you probably know, I write about mental health a lot.
I'm not convinced that the linking of mental health to gun violence is the best way for proper attention to be given to the needs of the mentally ill, partly because it reinforces the (incorrect) perception that the mentally ill constitute a threat.
And of course, the linking we've seen since Connecticut just makes everyone go to their respective corners because now mental health and gun control seem to be the same thing.
I was particularly appalled by the CT politician who didn't want to get into the question of mental health changes in her state b/c it hadn't been established yet that the shooter in Newtown had a diagnosed mental illness. But then she said, "it's never too early to start."
Too early? Are you kidding me, ma'am? We're decades too late in a conversation about mental health in this country.
Also, put me down as really skittish that there's a database of people seeking help for a mental illness.
Bob, good point about mental health. It's been my impression lately that "mental health vs gun control" is the same thing as "pro-gun vs anti-gun." In other words, the pro-gun people are pushing the mental health angle because it has nothing to do with guns. If we focus on that, then it's less likely we'll try anything that restricts their "right" to own military hardware.
Also, I'm amazed at that they suddenly care about anyone's health, mental or otherwise.
How would a background check have stopped the Sandy Hook shooter? He stole the gun from his mother who, I presume, passed her background check.
What might have helped is if this mother could have gotten the mental health help her kid needed. I just don't subscribe to the theory that background checks alone will stop these killings or that it's some sort of cure-all. I do think a focus on mental health will have a more dramatic effect in bringing these killings to a stop.
Gee, it's too bad that the ATF is prohibited by law "from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation."
And until recently, "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
We can't have a serious debate about gun violence until we have facts. And thanks to a gun manufacturer lobbying group masquerading as a sportmans' group, we can't have facts.
Mother Jones also had a interesting story that shows a link between violent crime and lead. The drop in violent crime is caused by the reduction of lead (mainly from leaded gasoline) in the environment.
@ Bob -
I totally understand where you're coming from, and I don't want my comments misconstrued to mean everyone with mental health issues is violent, because I don't agree with that notion. There is a range of poor mental health, from mild depression to much more severe cases like the young man in CT seemingly had, and the Giffords shooter too.
And the idea of a mental health database frightens me a bit too, but I do think that if there are qualified medical experts who think a person's mental health is so bad they shouldn't have a gun, then I think that should absolutely be a part of a background check.
@ Disco - I don't understand your dichotomy. So, if I think we need to discuss mental health in terms of these shootings, I must be pro-gun? You might want to use a more narrow brush.
// So, if I think we need to discuss mental health in terms of these shootings, I must be pro-gun? You might want to use a more narrow brush.
I don't think that at all. I don't spend any time worrying about who is pro or anti-gun. It's just not a debate that goes anywhere, nor do I expect it to go anywhere this time.
What I'm saying is the sudden interest in mental health care -- not by you, I mean the perception as a matter of national dialog --is not actual concern for the mentally ill. It's all from the perspective of people being victims at the hands of the mentally ill.
It's not "let's do something to get people help for mental illness because they shouldn't have to live with a tortured mind." it's more "let's get help for mental illness so they don't kill us."
@ Bob -
I agree that it seems the focus is on the rest of us not getting killed and that the focus is so narrow is unfortunate.
I have a lot of opinions on this issue (mental health) but I'm not sure this is the best time to rant about every aspect. Perhaps we could discuss it more sometime if you ever wanted to come to Minneapolis for a popover. (heehee)
I am pretty conflicted on the whole issue. These days, I'm conflicted on just about every issue. :*)
@ Bob - honestly, there is no need to feel conflicted. The Minneapolis popovers are just as good! ;-D
That may be true (and I'm all for reducing lead - it's undeniably harmful), but also I think something much simpler is going on that accounts for at least part of the general decline in violence in the country: the country is aging.
It's a simple fact older people commit less violent crime than younger people do. (I can't quote numbers, but I'm pretty sure that the majority of violent crime is committed by young men, between, roughly, age 16 and 26.) As the country ages and there are fewer young people there will also be less violent crime.
And @Bob - I share your concern over discussions of mental health issues. Statistically speaking, the mentally ill are at a much greater risk of being victims of violence than they are a risk of causing it. The conversation is too narrow, and it saddens me.
I agree that the mentally are at a higher risk of violence as well as being taken advantage of. In my life time the folks that seek help, even if just a couple times do not cause any more trouble than any other group. The ones that keep their anger to themselves and hide it are the ones that act out. They are the ones that blame everyone except themselves. I do not know any way to help/stop that thinking. In my opinion, we need to block porn and violent video games. When people lack self control then they blame others for things that do not work in their lives. They are here to stay. The're the ones that act out, they do not ask for help, and they do not care. No background check will find them. Only family members will make it known.