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Health Team

Mass shootings in America are a serious problem -- and these 9 charts show just why

Posted June 13, 2016
Updated October 5

— There's no one commonly accepted definition of a "mass shooting." But whatever criteria you use, the conclusion's the same: There are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world.

If you go with the raw numbers ...

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which compiles data from shooting incidents, a "mass shooting" is any incident in which a gunman ...

shoots or kills four or more people

in the same general time and location

By that definition, according to the Gun Violence Archive, we have seen 273 mass shootings from January 1 to October 3.

That averages to 7.5 mass shootings a week.

Under the narrowest definition ...

The government has never defined "mass shooting" as a standalone category. Let's go with the most commonly accepted definition, from the Congressional Research Service: a shooting in which a gunman ...

kills four or more people

selects victims randomly (ruling out gang killings or the killing of multiple family members)

attacks in a public place

That definition rules out the Congressional baseball practice shooting in June, because the gunman didn't kill four people. In September, a man shot and killed eight people in Plano, Texas -- but that attack doesn't count either because police say the gunman had a "connection to the house."

Using that narrow definition to the Gun Violence Archive numbers, we have seen nine deadly mass shootings from January 1 to October 3.

That averages to one a month.

Four of the five deadliest shootings in the US have occurred in the past 10 years

The Las Vegas attack was the deadliest shooting in modern US history (at least 58 killed), and it's only 10 years removed from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre (32 killed) and a year removed from the second-deadliest shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting. In fact, of the 30 deadliest shootings in the United States dating back to 1949, 17 have occurred in the last 10 years.

It's a largely American phenomenon

From 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the world's mass shootings took place in the United States. A 2016 study looked at 292 incidents in which four or more people were killed. It found 90 of them occurred in America. Put another way: While the United States has about 5% of the world's population, it had 31% of all public mass shootings.

People have a greater chance of dying in mass shootings if they're at school or place of business

According to FBI data from 2013, incidents in schools and businesses represent 7 out of 10 active shootings. Some of the country's most high-profile mass shootings have occurred in those kinds of places: Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech and San Bernardino. Overseas, these incidents typically happen near military installations.

Most shooters take their own lives, or are killed

About 70% of active shooter incidents end with the shooter or shooters' deaths, according to the FBI. Unlike a homicide or mass killing, the "active" aspect implies that both law enforcement and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event.

When gun control debates peak, so does demand for guns

FBI data about the number of background checks for gun sales can tell us a lot about the patterns of demand. These patterns tend to rise directly after high-profile mass shootings, when public debates about gun control are high. In recent history, the highest number of background checks carried out in a month was recorded following the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015.

Americans own more guns than citizens of any other country

Civilians in the United States own about 270 million guns, according to a 2007 report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. That's enough to arm every adult in the US and still have some weapons left over. And it makes America the No. 1 country in firearms per capita. Also, in more than half the American mass shooting cases, the shooter had more than one firearm. In global incidents, the shooter typically had only one gun.

... and most gun owners say a firearm is essential to their freedom

According to a 2017 Pew study, 74% of gun owners say this right is essential. Only 35% of non-gun owners feel the same way.

This is an updated version of an article that published in June 2016.

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