Democracy Dies in Darkness

Politics | Analysis

America's deadliest shooting incidents are getting much more deadly

By Philip Bump

October 2, 2017 at 8:25 AM

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At least 58 people are dead and hundreds are injured after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. Here's what you need to know about the shooting. (Elyse Samuels, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

This article has been updated with new fatality numbers.

The mass shooting that killed at least 50 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night was the worst in modern American history. Police suspect that Stephen Paddock fired on the crowd at a country-music concert indiscriminately from his hotel room window, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more.

If it seems as though we only just experienced another deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, it’s because we did. About 16 months ago, Omar Mateen killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Before that, the record was held by the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, in which 32 people were killed.

Looking at the timeline of these incidents, a recent trend emerges: The death toll from these shootings has increased dramatically.

More information about the incidents on the chart above is at the bottom of this article.

Obviously any new “deadliest incident” will have more deaths than the ones that came before. From 1949 to 1991, though, the increase in the number of deaths was only nine. The shooting at Virginia Tech was more than double that in Camden in 1949. The killings in Orlando added 17 more deaths to the total. How many will end up as victims in Las Vegas isn’t yet known — but it’s already twice the toll of the deadliest shooting in history as of 11 years ago.

People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gunfire broke out Sunday in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Getty Images)

That the most recent incident to set a record was only 16 months ago may have been a grim fluke; these incidents are too few to draw a real pattern in that regard.

That the next incident to establish itself as the deadliest in American history will mean that more than 50 people will have given their lives, though, is only slightly less alarming than the near-certainty that there will be a next incident.

America’s deadliest mass and spree shootings


Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Post based in New York.

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