Often when people discuss mass shootings, they focus on the number of people killed, but that overlooks the massive public health and economic toll that nonfatal shootings have on this country. To better take that into account, we define mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
By July 19, the United States had already suffered 305 such shootings in 2020, including 60 in May and 95 in June. Those numbers smash records set just last year, as I lay out in a recent report. Previously, the most mass shootings ever seen in one month was 51, set in June 2019. Only seven months into this year, the United States has already experienced more mass shootings in 2020 than in either 2013 or 2014.
The recent dramatic spike in mass shootings is part of a longer trend. From 2013 to 2019, the frequency of mass shootings increased by 65 percent. During that period, the country suffered 2,341 mass shootings that killed 2,642 people and wounded 9,766 more.
This increase is not spread evenly across the country. States with weaker gun laws — such as “stand your ground” statutes or a lack of universal background checks — have seen mass shooting rates skyrocket by 91 percent across the time period, compared to a 33 percent increase in states with stronger laws. From 2013 to 2019, states with weaker laws had 5 percent more mass-shooting incidents (though it was not statistically significant) and 50 percent more mass-shooting fatalities than states with stronger laws.
The disparity in deaths between strong- and weak-law states can be explained in part by the use of assault-style weapons, such as AR-15s and AK-47s. States with weak laws had 63 percent more mass shootings with such weapons than states with stronger laws. Despite comprising just 5 percent of overall mass shootings, shootings with these weapons were four times more lethal than shootings in which other types of firearms were used. Further, of the top 20 highest-casualty shootings across the country, 14 were committed with an assault weapon.
We are a country on the brink of a gun violence crisis. While our national attention has been rightfully fixated on the covid-19 catastrophe, we have largely ignored the increase in gun violence and mass shootings. This is a public health crisis and requires a data-driven, comprehensive public health approach.
Previous academic research has found that firearm licensing laws are not only effective at reducing overall rates of firearm violence, but also at directly curbing the frequency of mass shootings. Extreme risk protection orders are another promising policy that, if implemented and enacted properly, could also prevent potential mass shooters from arming themselves. Strong gun laws save lives.
But the research also tells us that one program or policy cannot stop the surge of violence on its own. To stop the rapid advance down this path of mass gun violence, we need to enact a comprehensive package of firearm laws and programs that are based on data, fact and best practices — not emotion or anecdote. Effective public policy requires our leaders to listen to data and to science. That is the only way we can stop this crisis from continuing to escalate.
The data and research only provide a glimpse into the devastation that mass shootings wrought in communities throughout our country. Each of these statistics represent horrific incidents that cut lives short and irreparably harmed others; tragedies that shatter families and communities again and again. No statistic can fully capture the trauma these shootings inflict, and mass shootings are just one part of America’s ongoing gun violence epidemic.
How can the United States continue to call itself a world leader when we can’t even end the violence on our own streets? It’s time that we listen to the data and stop the violence.
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