The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2021 has already been a very bad year for mass shootings

New York police officers investigate a shooting in Queens on July 6. (Lloyd Mitchell/Reuters)

It wasn’t until Aug. 7, 2016, that the United States saw its 300th death in a mass shooting that year. Since the Gun Violence Archive began collecting data on such incidents in 2014 — defined as a shooting in which at least four people are injured or killed excluding the shooter — that was the earliest that the United States had gotten to the 300-death marker. That was relatively quick, too. In 2015, it took until October. In 2018, it was almost Halloween.

Then came 2020. After a lull in mass shootings at the start of the pandemic, the number of incidents soared in the late spring. By the beginning of June last year, there had been more mass shootings to that point than in any of the prior six years. By the end of the year, there had been almost 50 percent more than in any year from 2014 to 2019.

But that record will probably fall in 2021. To date, the number of mass shootings in the country is 20 percent higher than where we were in 2020, which itself was 30 percent higher than the previous high.

This year, the United States saw its 300th incident on June 12, more than four months sooner than three years ago.

In total, there have been more than 1,800 people injured or killed in mass shootings so far in 2021. That’s a higher toll than in 2015 or 2018. Take away the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in 2017, and 2021 has seen about as many injuries and fatalities as that year, too.

This year’s incidents have also been deadlier than in 2020. Nearly 370 people have died in mass shootings in 2021, nearly 50 percent more than at the same point a year ago. The country is averaging 109 deaths for every 100 incidents. At this point last year, every 100 mass shootings had yielded 85 deaths.

In about a third of states, this year has seen more deaths and injuries from mass shootings than at the same point in any prior year since 2014. In several of those states — Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania — the number of injuries from mass shootings has climbed higher for each of the past two years.

There is a lot of debate over what constitutes a “mass shooting.” The Washington Post, in fact, uses a stricter definition for our mass-shootings database, looking only at incidents in which four or more people are killed. But given concern about the rise in shootings in particular (the increase in shootings in New York City, for example, was credited with influencing the city’s mayoral primary), it’s useful to look more broadly at such incidents.

What isn’t clear is the extent to which this represents a short-term trend. It’s been more than a year since the spike in shootings began, already suggesting a change in baseline behavior.

That said, while most Americans see crime as a significant problem nationally, far fewer see it as a serious problem in their own communities, according to recent Washington Post-ABC News polling. Democrats are more likely to identify it as a problem in their own communities than are other political groups but are still twice as likely to say it’s not a significant problem as to say that it is.

Should the trend in mass shootings not slow, those numbers could change.