Mass Shootings

James Alan Fox: There Is No Evidence of an 'Epidemic of Mass Shootings'

The nation's leading scholar of mass shootings explains how media coverage of horrific events such as El Paso and Dayton stoke unwarranted fear and anxiety.

|

The horrific mass killings in El Paso and Dayton have understandably inspired terror in America and calls for expanded gun control, predictive policing, and mental health interventions designed to reduce violence.

But Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, the leading researcher on the topic for the past 35 years, tells Reason, "There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings." The number of incidents and casualties are simply too small to make such claims and, he stresses, the media coverage of shootings often ends up creating a false sense that gun violence—which is at or near historic lows—is ubiquitous and growing.

In a wide-ranging interview with Nick Gillespie, Fox explains the common characteristics of mass killers, why violent crime involving guns has declined over the past several decades, and how cable TV and social media contribute to a false sense of panic.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

NEXT: Florida Senate Member Gets Restraining Order Against Critic

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. We should ban mass shootings.

    1. All shootings are mass shootings. Has anyone used a laser gun?

      1. “”All shootings are mass shootings. “”

        Really, so one person shot is a mass shooting?

        Dumbass thing to say. Yet you did.

        1. You didn’t get the joke.

          1. He did not take physics.

          2. Nope, I did not.

            1. A bullet is a physical object, it has mass, unlike a laser beam.

              1. “…unlike a laser beam.”

                No, I refuse to be a pedant here…

                1. No instead you come off as pederast.

              2. To be even more pedantic, a laser beam has mass; E=MC^2, after all. Laser beams just lack rest mass.

    2. How about except for shootings at Mass?

      1. How about except for shootings at Mass?

        “Covington style alt-right religious ceremony shut down by brave revolutionary protesters”

    3. Until his ass gets shot up

  2. Most “Mass Shootings” are criminals shooting each other.

    Shooters targeting 4 or more random innocent people and killing them is very rare as far as violence in America goes.

    1. They are rare, and people do tend to overstate how worried we should be about them (you are well over 10x more likely to be killed in an accident as a pedestrian than in a “mass shooting”), but people claiming they aren’t on an upward trend are delusional.

      1. As a statistical matter, they are too rare to produce a statistically significant trend with a reasonable degree of confidence.

        1. As a realistic matter, the media don’t care, because they’re engaged in a deliberate propaganda campaign, not science.

      2. An interesting thing about risk is that we perceive it based on whether we choose the risk. So while cigarette and downhill skiing are a greater risk, we are more concerned with dodging bullets at a Walmart. And we will demand action to reduce the risk that we do not choose.

    2. The brutal facts are, excluding suicides, the overwhelming majority of shootings and murders in America are not mass shootings done by assault weapons, but are done by handguns wielded by inner city black men, mostly gang bangers, shooting other black gang bangers and sometimes tragically hitting innocent black citizens who are just minding their own business. If you look at the numbers, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore, among many Democrat run cities, experience the numerical equivalent of several hundred mass shootings each year! Only one nation , Honduras, has a higher murder rate than the city of Baltimore! In the hours between El Paso and Dayton, 7 people were shot in gang violence in Chicago and not a peep from the left-leaning mainstream media or politicians. I guess that “just another day in the ‘Hood” type violence does not fit the narrative that it is Trump’s rhetoric causing it!
      But, what do the millions of people passionately pleading with local, state and federal politicians to “Do Something” propose they do about reversing this catastrophic and barbaric trend in these urban areas? How do you overturn decades of disastrous damage done by the liberal progressive policies of forced busing, perpetual victimization propaganda and massive social welfare programs foisted upon these communities that ripped apart the stable black family unit and destroyed fine urban black towns and cities?

      1. “Perpetual victimization propaganda”. Haha. Yup.

        “EVERYTHING IS SO TERRIBLE AND UNFAIR!!!!!!”

        6 words that define an ideology.

        1. ““EVERYTHING IS SO TERRIBLE AND UNFAIR!!!!!!”
          6 words that define an ideology.”

          You are making a pretty good case for that claim, and there is no reason for you to stop doing so.
          Keep it up.

      2. “How do you overturn decades of disastrous damage done by the liberal progressive policies of forced busing, perpetual victimization propaganda and massive social welfare programs foisted upon these communities that ripped apart the stable black family unit and destroyed fine urban black towns and cities?”

        End the drug wars? These killings you deplore are often perpetrated in turf wars between rival criminal organizations. Ending the drug wars probably won’t prevent incidents like the mass shooting in El Paso recently, which appears to be hatred of Mexicans, rather than a legitimate pursuit of drug business.

    3. Plus calling a shooting with 4+ people injured a “mass shooting” makes the problem sound much worse than it is. Most people think of a “mass shooting” as one in which some psycho shoots 10+ people. There have been about a half dozen of those this year, still way too many but 250 or whatever the media reports.

  3. Americans are very bad at understanding statistics. I don’t think we’re alone in the world in this trait. Great Britain, I’m looking in your direction…

    1. And also bad at remembering.

      For most people, who cannot recall things from 6 days/weeks/months ago, a mass shooting yesterday is way more many than they can remember. Therefore, a dramatic increase.

    2. Americans are very bad at understanding statistics.

      This isn’t exclusive to Americans and is intentionally baked in to Stateistics.

    3. It’s amazing how many commonplace fears completely evaporate and how much less vulnerable people become to manipulation once they gain even a very basic understanding of statistics and probability.

      It makes you wonder how long it will be before studying statistics becomes a form of forbidden knowledge, taught only a need to know basis. It is dangerous knowledge. It can undermine so much of what politicians and media is trying to do.

  4. “There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings.” The number of incidents and casualties are simply too small to make such claims

    Not an epidemic of measles, neither?

    1. Well, for those science deniers among us, who look at actual facts, measles is actually contagious, shootings are not. So yes, there can be an epidemic of measles, but not of mass shootings.

      1. Modulo “copy-cat shootings”, your point is well taken.

  5. A bored Nick Gillespie sits at Reason HQ, and thinks to himself – “Lemme see if I can lure Hihn out”.

    1. This place would be better if that was how it really worked.

  6. “The horrific mass killings in El Paso and Dayton have understandably inspired terror in America and calls for…”

    I disagree. Let’s stop accepting the notion that ridiculous, pants-shitting overreaction is understandable. Let’s not promote the mom who immediately rushes out and buys a bulletproof backpack for her little angel.

    1. Because the school will confiscate the backpack as a weapon?

      1. But the added weight will help keep little Timmy and Tammy in shape.

  7. I wonder. I looked at the statistics in Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States

    1920s: 3
    1930s: 2
    1940s: 3
    1950s: 1
    1960s: 6
    1970s: 14
    1980s: 21
    1990s: 35
    2000s: 36
    2010s: 88

    Looks like exponential growth to me. And much faster than population growth.

    The real question is, what is the cause of this startling rise in mass shootings? We’ve had guns for decades, so guns aren’t the cause. Is it the growth of white supremacy? Probably not: we had serious problems with the KKK in the 1920s.

    So why are mass shootings rising so fast. Granted, your chance of being killed in a mass shooting is still miniscule — less than your chance of being hit by lightning. But we should still try to figure out why there are so many.

    1. “We’ve had guns for decades, so guns aren’t the cause.”

      I can’t say for certain, but I’d guess that we had more gun control laws after the 1960s than we had before. Thus reinforcing that guns (or the lack of common-sense gun control) is not the cause.

      Here’s a thought – the War on Drugs began in the 1970s. Mass shootings began to increase significantly in the 1970s. Could there be a relation between drug prohibition and increased shootings among rival drug gangs?

    2. The real question is, what is the cause of this startling rise in mass shootings?

      Before delving into that, we first need to determine whether the data are shit.

      1. Right.
        In the heyday of murder inc, al Capone, and prohibition… there were 3 mass shootings?

    3. “I looked at the statistics in Wikipedia”

      I’ve found your problem.

    4. >>>less than your chance of being hit by lightning. But we should still try to figure out why there are so many.

      should we? less than lightning.

      1. Well, since it’s (probably) not white supremacy – the cause of all strife in the world – then we’ll have to figure out something else!
        Is “nationalism” too close to white supremacy?
        If not, let’s go with that.
        Otherwise: climate change.
        And if you don’t like that, maybe we can try Christianity and/or gay persecution.

      2. Rationally, we’d be better off investing in a nation-wide network of lightning rods.

    5. Prohibition existed during the entirety of the 1920’s. Hard to believe that decade only had three instances “in which four or more people, excluding the perpetrator(s), are shot [not necessarily killed] in one location at roughly the same time.”

      The wiki page only notes “mass shootings” that have links to their own wiki. Explains why it looks as if things are increasing.

    6. “I looked at the statistics in Wikipedia”

      Not the right place to look; they aren’t even trying to compile a comprehensive list for the past. From the ‘Talk’ page:

      “It’s extremely likely there are many more shootings pre-2018…”

      I know I looked at wiki’s ‘List of School Shootings’ page once, and they explicitly said they only listed incidents where there was an online link to a source, e.g. a newspaper article. Newspaper articles are generally only available online for the relatively recent past. I found several incidents of school shootings that weren’t in that wiki list because you couldn’t directly link to an online source.

    7. “I wonder. I looked at the statistics in Wikipedia
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States

      1920s: 3
      1930s: 2
      1940s: 3
      1950s: 1
      1960s: 6
      1970s: 14
      1980s: 21
      1990s: 35
      2000s: 36
      2010s: 88″
      Care to provide a real cite?

      1. The 1860s had the most mass shootings by far.
        20,000 in a single day on 9/17/62.

    8. This list is completely bogus from a statistical perspective.

      It says itself, “Only shootings that have Wikipedia articles of their own are included in this list.”

    9. These are interesting numbers but unless you make them per capita, they aren’t meaningful. The US population has risen from 106 million in 1920 to 327 million today. Along with this increase in population, population density and proximity of perpetrators and victims has risen. You would have to account for this somehow to determine if the rise in mass shootings is somehow more than an artifact of more people in this country living closer together.

    10. Gee seems so called mass shootings increased along with increase in population as well as people moving from rural to urban areas. These stats totally ignore other factors like the great depression, WWII,etc. in 1920, the population of US was 105 million, 1/3 of what it is today and 80% of population lived outside cities. As far as your statistics, wikipedia,really? Today 65% of population lives in cities. The increase in mass shootings in a manipulation of facts, not reality. The weekly shootings in Chicago are added to these figures even though the media and Democrats never actually discuss them

  8. As few as four killings on a single occasion – we call that “mass killing.”

    300+ killings per year consistently over several years – we call that “Chicago.”

    1. Oops, sorry – the Chicago number is 500+ per year.

      This means we could have a “mass killing” every week and still have less than half the annual killings in Chicago.

      Are we perhaps focusing on the wrong problem?

    2. I’m sorry. It is perfectly reasonable as a libertarian to say that we don’t know how to solve the problem or we don’t know how to solve the problem without tromping all over people’s liberties. It’s reasonable to say your chances of being a victim of a mass shooting are low, or that such shooting happen in other countries, too.

      But it’s not reasonable, as I’m seeing many commenters here saying, to deny that random mass shootings aren’t a real problem.

      1. Well, sure, they’re a real problem. Objectively a smaller problem than the heartbreak of psoriasis, but, yeah, a real problem.

        So what? If you’re asking for a proportionate response, the response is going to be pretty minor. If you’re asking for a rational response, it’s going to be something like, “Outlaw gun free zones, and encourage more concealed carry of handguns.”

        But I guarantee you the people making a fuss about rare mass shootings wouldn’t approve of that, even though it would have the advantage of working.

        1. Heaven forbid that there be an effective solution to mass shootings, such as your suggestion of “Outlaw gun free zones, and encourage more concealed carry of handguns.”
          Such acts of homicidal maniacs are there to be exploited by the gun-haters, who can use them to advance their agenda of more useless “gun control”.
          It’s so much easier for them to turn all of civil society into a massive, tightly controlled, insane asylum, than to consider putting the ever dangerous (with gasoline, trucks, home-made explosives, etc.) homicidal maniacs into asylums.

          1. If there were no mass-shootings, the gun-grabbers would create them, to provide the excuse they want to proceed with their program of “civilian disarmament”.

            1. No, no they wouldn’t. Why is Reason commentariat starting to collect so many conservatives, pro-Trumpers, and conspiratorial nut jobs.

  9. The only way to convince to freely surrender their liberty is to convince them it is for their own good. Progressives push this narrative because the only barrier to their dream of a strong, central government controlling all aspects of life is an armed populace.

  10. These mass shootings seem to be a lot more significant than their occurrences merit. In a week or so, there will be another one and we’ll be here denying its significance, as we do every other time.

    1. If history is any guide, one guy goes nuts, the media make him famous, and then there are a few copycat attacks by madmen jealous of the attention.

      And then it dies down again for a while, because the very, very limited supply of people willing to take up the media’s standing offer of fame in return for murder has been exhausted, and needs to rebuild.

      So, probably not, unless the Democrats are manufacturing them somehow for their gun control push, and I’m not personally paranoid enough to believe they’re doing that… yet.

      1. “And then it dies down again for a while, because the very, very limited supply of people willing to take up the media’s standing offer of fame in return for murder has been exhausted, and needs to rebuild.”

        Maybe the media’s need to exploit and encourage these incidents will counter the Democrats push to control firearms. I expect the media will also try to portray these incidents in a more positive light. ‘Horrific’ is a word the media (and this article) uses to describe what happened in El Paso. Such emotional language must discourage potential mass murderers out there.

    2. “These mass shootings seem to be a lot more significant than their occurrences merit.”
      Bull
      .
      .
      .
      shit.

  11. There sure are a lot of snarky Trump supporters in this comment thread talking shit to people about their facts and sources who then turn around and spew a bunch of incorrect data and flat out bogus talking points. Y’all love to spout off about Chicago and Dem run states but fail to mention the dozen+ other cities with higher rates of shootings and homicides. Y’all also fail to talk about how even though Chicago has some strict gun laws, though not the strictist like Trumpistas claim, that the majority of the guns used in violent crimes come from *out* of state. Gee, I wonder why that is? Is it possibly because you only take in one source of media and refuse to listen to counter arguments to your feelings? And even when you do take in counterpoints it’s all fake-news, I bet. Right? Anti-illectuism at its finest.

  12. Interesting that no one seems to have mentioned the mass shooting in Philadelphia where 6 police officers were shot by a felon in possession of an AK47 like weapon.

    Another 5 people were shot on the same street the next day. Police think it’s gang related so I guess it doesn’t count.

  13. I found this podcast very interesting. My husband had listened to another podcast, I can’t remember which one, that made a connection between the late 90s decrease in violent crime with the rise of cell phones. The basic idea was that there was less turf war violence because the dealer no longer had to stand on a street corner to be found. Dealers and buyers could just page then call or text each other. I don’t know if it is true, but it is interesting to think about.

  14. Mass shootings? Lets consider the hundreds of thousand of medical patients each year that are murdered by Big Pharma drugs, doctor mistakes and the general inefficiency of the medical system. Since there is no blood on the streets, these deaths don’t matter to the Marxist media or most anyone else.

Please to post comments