Mass shooting stats cooked, criminologist says

Are mass killings on the rise?

It depends, apparently, on how you define mass killings.

In a December article, Mother Jones magazine provided a “Guide to Mass Shootings in America,” including last year’s killings at an office in Minneapolis.

It said…


Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings* across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Twenty-five of these mass shootings have occurred since 2006, and seven of them took place in 2012. We’ve mapped them below, including details on the shooters’ identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

That statistic has been cited several times since by news organizations in the ongoing debate over gun control since the Newtown, CT massacre.

It’s wrong, Prof. James Fox, a criminilogist, writes today on Boston.com. He looked at Mother Jones’ methodology and found the magazine had eliminated mass shootings in the past. For example, he says, Mother Jones included “the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese robbery/massacre of four people committed by a former employee, but excluded the Brown’s Chicken robbery/massacre of seven victims that occurred the very same year, presumably because two perpetrators were involved in the latter incident or perhaps because these gunmen had no prior connection to the restaurant.”

He also says the magazine eliminated massacres involving family members.

But Fox provides a chart showing no upward trend in mass killings in this country.

mass_shooting_chart.jpg


According to these expanded figures, there have been, on average, nearly 20 mass shootings a year in the United States. Most, of course, were nowhere as deadly as the recent massacres in Colorado and Connecticut that have countless Americans believing that a new epidemic is upon us and have encouraged healthy debate concerning causes and solutions. Notwithstanding the awful tragedies of this past year, there has been no upward trend in mass shootings.

What is abundantly clear from the full array of mass shootings, besides the lack of any trend upward or downward, is the largely random variability in the annual counts. There have been several points in time when journalists and others have speculated about a possible epidemic in response to a flurry of high profile shootings. Yet these speculations have always proven to be incorrect when subsequent years reveal more moderate levels.

Given the inconsistent pattern — and rarity — of mass shootings in the country, Fox says, it will be difficult to determine whether any laws to reduce them worked.

On that score today at the Capitol, a host of gun control measures were introduced in Minnesota. They include tougher laws for transferring guns to ineligible people, a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and mental health screening for people applying for firearms permits.