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.


The Dumbest Thing Ever Said About Gun Violence – 1st Of Many.

Emily Miller

Emily Miller

I’m going to start giving out an award for the dumbest comment about gun violence.  I’m not yet sure how often I’m going to select a winner and I haven’t yet figured out a prize.  In fact, I invite all the readers of this blog to take the poll following the text to send me their ideas.  In the meantime, the first candidate for our Dumb Award is Emily Miller, a so-called “opinion writer” for the Washington News.  She gets on our list of possible award-winners for her column last week about mass shootings, in which she accused the President of  exploiting the fear of mass shootings to push his gun-control agenda, and noted that mass shooting deaths in America are a “rarity,” accounting for no more than 18 deaths each year.

Where does she get such crazy numbers?  Miller claims she got them from the Congressional Research Service although her link only goes to other Washington Times stories that mention the CRS.  But there is another source for this data, namely, the FBI which publishes something called Supplementary Homicide Reports each year.  Like most crime data, the reports are several years behind, the most recent covering 2011.  So our good friends in Mike Bloomberg’s shop took the FBI data covering 2009 – 2011 and added newspaper accounts covering 2012 and what’s happened so far in 2013.   If I saw a copy of the report then so did Emily Miller.  But you don’t ever mention the name ‘Bloomberg’ in the Washington Times other than to remind your readers that he’s a big clown.  Clown or not, here’s what the Bloomberg report says.

Between January 2009 and the Navy Yard massacre last week, there have been 93 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as events in which 4 or more people were killed.  In calculating the number of victims, incidentally, the FBI did not include the shooters who turned the gun on themselves, nor did they include shooters who were killed by responding police.  I included both categories because, frankly, I don’t see how you could leave them out.  And the grand total of dead people three months short of five years?  498.  Now according to Miller, the total should be slightly less than 90.  It’s not.  It’s 498, which is more than 5 victims per mass shooting.

Of the more than 100 shooters involved in these events (in some mass shootings there were also multiple perpetrators,) there were 25 who took their own lives.  Deducting this number from the overall victim count still leaves more than 470, or more than 90 per year.  And there’s no reason to exclude the 8 mass shooters killed by police because they wouldn’t have been shot if they hadn’t committed a mass murder in the first place.  And here’s the big news: for Emily Miller and the entire NRA gang who go around touting the preposterous idea that an “armed citizenry” will protect us against gun violence, there was not a single mass shooting since 2009 that was thwarted or responded to by a civilian carrying a gun.  Not one.

One other important point needs to be mentioned about mass shootings.  Despite the NRA’s contention that “gun-free zones” (like schools) increase the possibility of shootings, the overwhelming number of mass shootings took place exactly where most gun violence occurs, in or near the home of the victim.  This is true in two-thirds of the mass shootings, and for overall gun violence the percentage is about the same.  And a common thread appears in many of these domestic tragedies; i.e., they happened during holiday celebrations – Thanksgiving, Christmas – which is when lots of people are gathered in the same place.

Know what?  I really wish that Emily Miller wasn’t such an idiot.  I wish her numbers were correct.  If we only suffered 18 mass shooting deaths each year that would probably mean the overall number of deaths from shootings would also be substantially lower than the 11,000 that now occur.   Now

take the poll.