What Do We Know About Mass Shootings?

mass shootings  I have spent enough time and words discussing the shortcomings of Mike Bloomberg’s approach to gun violence but now it’s time to give him a pat on the back.  I’m referring to the report that his group published last month that gave a very detailed of mass shootings since 2009; mass shootings being defined by the FBI as an incident in which one individual shoots kills four or more people within a brief period of time.  The report is based on data from the FBI’s supplement to the UCR, along with media and law enforcement descriptions of each event.

The report’s publication elicited the usual response:  the NRA and its minions like John Lott derided or simply lied about it, the gun control crowd yawned, mentioned the report in this blog and that blog, and then went back to thinking about whatever they have been thinking about since Toomey-Manchin bit the dust.  But the report really does deserve scrutiny because it not only contains some very significant information about multiple shootings, but also forces us to think about the most effective strategies for dealing with gun violence, if in fact we want to think about the issue at all.

The most important piece of evidence from the report is the correlation between multiple shootings and domestic, holiday environments. Want to see a gun-fight other than on television?  Invite the whole family over for a party and then let an ex-spouse into the home.  This was the single, most common environment in which multiple killings occurred, and in many cases the grand finale then involved the shooter turning the gun on himself.

More than half the 93 mass killings that took place between January 27, 2009 and the Navy Yard massacre on occurred this year on September 16, involved not just people who knew each other, but people who were related by marriage, blood or both.  All of these killings took place in or adjacent to a family residence, as did many of the other mass murders which didn’t involve domestic relationships.  NRA blather to the contrary, only 15% of all these killings took place in “gun-free” zones like schools, government buildings, etc.  The idea that such environments create a greater opportunity for gun violence is not supported by the data collected by the FBI.  I mean, who are you going to trust when it comes to information about crime – the NRA or the FBI?

Finally, the report also notes that 10% of the shooters had exhibited behavior which at some time or another resulted in some degree of contact with the mental health system.  But it is not clear whether any of these individuals were ever treated for mental illness, nor were they prohibited from owning firearms due to their mental state. Slightly less than half of the perpetrators appeared to have previous criminal histories or other reasons that would have prohibited them from possessing guns.

Which brings us to the nub of the issue: Is the evidence contained in this report align itself with the strategies for controlling gun violence being advocated by Mike Bloomberg and his friends?    Maybe yes and maybe no.  Obviously the “prohibited” persons who committed roughly 40% of these mass killings would have had more difficulty acquiring a gun if private sales required a background check. Score one for universal background checks.  On the other hand, of the 93 people who have committed mass murders over the past 4 and 3/4 years, only one had spent enough time in a mental health facility to forfeit his right to purchase or own a gun. Score zero for gathering mental health records.

Those of us who want to do something about gun violence face two daunting tasks: one is to figure out how to mobilize grass-roots support on a continuous and effective basis; the second is to figure out what to do.  You’ll see some more posts on both issues shortly.

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