One of the problems with talking about mass shootings is that everyone seems to have a different definition of what the term ‘mass shooting’ really means. What is really interesting about this subject is the fact that the U.S. has so many shootings that we can create different categories of what constitutes mass shooting and what does not. How many people have to get killed at one time? Some say four, others say five. Others go so far as to say that it doesn’t really matter how many get killed; it’s the number of people who get shot by the same guy whether they live or die.
There’s also an argument about where a shooting resulting in multiple victims takes place. Some of the mass-shooting compilers say it doesn’t matter where it occurs, others ignore shootings that occur during other criminal events, or inside someone’s house or maybe yes or maybe no when it comes to a shooting in a school
Then there’s the big issue of whether or not mass shooters focus their activity on gun-free zones. If a public venue posts a sign prohibiting guns on the premises, does this serve as an invitation for a mass shooter to grab his trusty AR-15 and enter that zone?
All of these questions have been swirling around not just because of what happened at Parkland, but because that idiot in the White House has to open his yap and say something stupid about how mass shooters are attracted to gun-free zones. In fact, at the NRA meeting Trump-o said that 98 percent of all mass shootings since 1950 occurred in gun-free zones. This statement provoked the Washington Post to do a little digging and they turned up some data from John Lott who came out with the 98% figure in 2013, then revised it downward last week to 97.3%. His latest research is an attempt to correct what he considers to be the misleading report published by Everytown, which set mass shootings in gun-free zones between 2009 and 2016 at roughly 10 percent. Lott’s data for the same period says the number was 86 percent.
How could Lott and Everytown come up with numbers that are so wildly different in terms of the percentage of mass shootings that take place in gun-free zones? It gets down to the fact that Lott and the Everytown researchers define a mass shooting very differently depending on where it takes place. Lott’s data excludes private residences, as well as shootings that were part and parcel of an ongoing criminal event. Nearly two-thirds of the mass shootings counted by Everytown occurred in private homes, the victims usually belonging to the same family group.
I happen to agree with Lott that someone who walks into a family party and starts blasting away represents a horse of a very different color than the guy who walks into a movie theater or a school and just tries to kill as many people as possible, even though he probably doesn’t know the identity of a single person who gets caught in his sights. Where I find myself unable to go along with Lott’s research is his assumption that a mass shooter is motivated to attack a particular location because he knows it is a gun-free zone.
The U.S. Secret Service has just published a very detailed study of 28 mass shootings which occurred in public spaces in 2017. You can download it here. They found that of the 23 attackers who used guns, at least 10 possessed the weapons illegally at the time of the attack. A more significant finding is that every attack in a public space that was motivated by some kind of domestic issue resulted in injuries both to targeted as well as random individuals. In only two of the attacks was the shooter prevented from greater violence because of the intervention of another individual, in neither case with the use of a gun.
Let’s face it folks. The problem isn’t gun-free zones. The problem is someone getting pissed off and grabbing a gun.