As is usually the case, it took very little time for people to start assigning motivation to the shooter who killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. That the apparent suspect was the U.S.-born son of Afghan immigrants prompted some suspicion that his motivation was radical Islamic beliefs. That his father told a story about the alleged shooter becoming angry at seeing two men kiss prompted others to assume that he may have been motivated by homophobia.
While early reports weren’t clear on the shooter’s motivation, law enforcement officials now suggest that the gunman had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before committing the attack.
That initial split led to the recirculation of a tweet from last December, based on a map The Fix made after the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif.
Mass shootings that involved Muslim suspects (red) pic.twitter.com/f6g6Yzl9kg
— Adam Khan (@Khanoisseur) December 7, 2015
The obvious point: The vast majority of mass shootings generally have nothing to do with radical Islam and don’t even involve Muslim suspects.
But that map is somewhat misleading. In the wake of the Orlando massacre — the deadliest in U.S. history — we decided to make a more accurate one.
Using data from the Gun Violence Archive on mass shooting incidents since November 2014 in which three or more people were killed, we put together a new version of the above map. (That map included mass shooting incidents in which four or more people were injured, which is why it contains more data points.) We highlighted the attacks in Colorado Springs and Charleston, S.C., as examples of other politically motivated attacks that weren’t linked to radical Islam.
What’s immediately clear from the chart above is that the vast majority of deadly shooting incidents are not related to any political motivation — terrorist or otherwise. What’s also clear is that once the attacks in Orlando are conclusively identified as linked to radical Islam, such attacks have been far deadlier than most.
This is a case in which both sides probably have a valid point: A man motivated both by a desire to commit an act of terror in fealty to the Islamic State may have picked a target based on his hatred of homosexuality. The point of the edits that someone made to our map was that very few of these mass killings have been linked to radical Islam. The point of our map in the first place was that mass shootings happen more frequently than people realize.