Mass Shooting Post-Vegas Data Update, Frustration with Politicians, and Some Ideas

Once again, we have to face another horrifying mass shooting event. This time, it was the worst mass shooting event in U.S. history. It’s frustrating to see this happen again with the understanding that our country is unlikely to anything to do anything but repeat the same slogans, with politicians offering “thoughts and prayers” but no action. I try to stick to data analysis and art on this site, without making things too political, but my frustration has the better of me on this topic. These large scale homicides have become routine, and there is zero political will to take even minor steps to mitigate this epidemic. It makes me sad to write about this again.

Unfortunately, on all matters regarding statistics and research regarding firearms and firearm related fatalities, our federal government has punted on its responsibility to collect meaningful data. As I explored in the three prior articles on mass shootings, there are other resources to bail us out. Each has its pros and cons, and none is what I would consider complete and definitive.

Here are the best resources I’ve been able to find, with some links. The two primary sources I’ve examined are Mother Jones and www.gunviolencearchive.org/ (GVA). Mother Jones has much more detail on events (description, weapons, mental illness status, etc), but has significantly less events than GVA. GVA appears to be the most complete list of events, but provides very few details (only location and victim number) compared to Mother Jones. Another drawback of GVA is that their publicly available data only goes back to 2014, whereas Mother Jones has gone back to 1982. I also looked at Stanford University’s database, but ultimately decided not to explore it further due to their self-described limitations. And finally, I’ve linked a Washington Post article with some excellent infographics.

Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/

GVA: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/mass-shooting

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/mass-shootings-in-america/

Stanford University: https://library.stanford.edu/projects/mass-shootings-america

I’ve discussed this in previous articles on the topic, but I’m not completely clear on the criteria each source uses for mass shootings. An often referenced definition is “four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.” But, raw numbers are often very different. It seems like GVA includes literally every event from 2014 to now, including gang-related incidents. Mother Jones, on the other hand, is very selective about inclusion; they definitely exclude gang shootings, and appear to document primarily major events with national news coverage. So, it’s good to bear in mind the variations. All the more reason it would be helpful if there was a definitive authority keeping such statistics.

These sources have updated their databases to reflect this latest tragedy in Las Vegas. I added the new data to my previous spreadsheets, and have included the new graphs below. It doesn’t doesn’t change the race, gender, or ideology graphics much, but does make the trend of increasing events and victims stand out. The state-by-state counts at the end really changed, almost to the point of being unreadable; it really emphasizes how large scale this Las Vegas concert shooting was.

I do not know if this is true for others, but for me, seeing visual representations of the number of people who’ve lost their lives helps keep this very real. I was especially affected by the Washington Post’s graphics I linked above; clicking on the many victims and seeing the scale as these add up is powerful. GVA (gunviolencearchive.org) also has some very well done visual representations on their website and their Twitter account (@gundeaths). I think the more people who are getting into this sort of data, and exploring what’s out there now, the better off we are in furthering this debate beyond “now is not the time to politicize [x].

Oct 2017 MS Events Per Year, Mother Jones Data

Figure 1. Mass shooting events per year, from Mother Jones data.

Oct 2017 MS Victims Per Year, Mother Jones Data

Figure 2. Mass shooting fatalities and total victims (injured plus killed), from Mother Jones data.

Oct 2017 MS Race Gender, Mother Jones Data

Figure 3. Mass shooting perpetrators by race/ethnicity, and mass shooting perpetrators by gender, from Mother Jones data.

Oct 2017 MS Venue Mental Illness, Mother Jones Data

Figure 4. Mass shooting venue types, and history of mental illness for shooter, from Mother Jones data.

Oct 2017 Ideology, Mother Jones Data

Figure 5. Ideology of mass shooting perpetrators, derived by the writer from the “Summary” and “Mental Health” fields in Mother Jones data, and from open source news when clarification was needed.

Oct 2017 MS EVents Per Year, GVA Data

Figure 6. Mass shooting events per year, from gunviolencearchive.org data.

Oct 2017 MS Victims Per Year, GVA Data

Figure 7. Mass shooting fatalities and total victims (injured plus killed) per year, from gunviolencearchive.org data.

Oct 2017 Per Capita Total Victims by State, GVA & Census Data

Figure 9. Adjusted/per capita total victim counts (killed and injured) in mass shootings by state, grouped into U.S. census regions, from gunviolencearchive.org and census.gov data.

Oct 2017 Per Capita Total Killed Only by State, GVA & Census Data

Figure 10. Adjusted/per capita victims killed (not injured) in mass shootings by state, grouped into U.S. census regions, from gunviolencearchive.org and census.gov data.

 

Is this specific category of gun violence getting worse? It certainly appears so. The question now is; what steps could we take to mitigate this? There is no single law that will eliminate gun violence, just like passing a law requiring seat belts didn’t stop all traffic deaths. We should approach the issue with as many solutions as possible, with a goal of chipping away at percentages and likelihoods until a large overall improvement is seen. Seat belts didn’t stop traffic deaths completely, but when combined with other measures, driving deaths were reduced over time. That’s the same approach I think the country needs to take with gun violence.

Here’s a list of measures that could be taken:

  • Extended waiting period. I’d like to see 30-60 days, but even 14 would be good.
  • Universal background checks. All firearm transactions should go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), with no loopholes for gun shows or private sales. In other words, if you want a firearm, you should have to go through an FFL-holding dealer. Absolutely no exceptions.
  • Magazine limits. In some jurisdictions, high capacity magazines are defined as more than 10. But, some firearms have a standard capacity that is higher (15-18). Might have to settle for banning modifications beyond the manufacturer’s standard.
  • Limits and restrictions on firearm accessories. I’m not very knowledgeable about things like bump stocks and trigger cranks, but any method for increasing rate of fire should be included in the conversation.
  • National licensing. If a method of transportation can have federally mandated licensing, certainly tools made specifically to kill should be licensed as well. Perhaps states can administer them, as with driver’s licenses.
  • Mental healthcare improvements. Significantly increase funding for inpatient mental health facilities. Also, we need to seek the psych profession’s expertise in determining significant risk factors, disorders, and pathologies that tend to factor into subjects who commit mass shootings. Let’s get the professionals involved. Speaking of which…
  • Remove restrictions on the Centers for Disease Control. Since 1996, the CDC has been forbidden from conducting research on firearm fatalities, and from treating this epidemic of violence as a public health issue. In essence, the federal government has dropped it’s obligation to conduct meaningful analysis on the topic. It’s well past time to reverse that.
  • Minimum purchase age of 21. There should probably be a personal use exception for law enforcement and military.
  • Domestic violence ban. If you abuse your spouse or children, you shouldn’t own a gun. My understanding is that a domestic violence conviction may be a reason for purchase denial, but anecdotally we seem to miss some of these abusers. (I’m not sure why; could be due to purchase loopholes, or maybe varied legal definitions?)
  • Reconsider an “assault weapon” ban. We had an “assault weapon” ban in place from 1993 to 2004. Since the ban’s expiration, mass shooting fatalities and victim totals have increased significantly. Although, according to Mother Jones data, only 29% of mass shootings involved a rifle (most offenders used handguns). Is the victim tally increase due to the proliferation of adaptable, military-style rifles? It’s hard to say for sure, and the exact definition of such weapons can be controversial, but it needs to be examined.
MJ Data Weapon Obtained Legally

Figure 11. Mass shooting weapon types used (left) and whether the weapons were obtained legally (right), from Mother Jones data.

Weapon Types Used Open Source

Figure 12. Mass shooting weapon types used by year. Initial data was from Mother Jones, but I had to supplement most incidents from 2014-2017 with open source research.

None of these ideas are catch all fixes, obviously. Implementing one or all of these things won’t end violence, won’t stop all shootings. But it would provide law enforcement with more tools, and make some meaningful steps towards addressing the epidemic of mass shootings in America. As I said, we’re talking about taking multiple smaller steps to mitigate the issue; each measure alone may not do much, but combined they may reverse the trend. Certainly, it’s better than doing nothing again.

Previous posts on this topic:

 

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  • I should note, there are actually two mass shooting events that were in Mother Jones data a few months ago, but are for some reason not currently listed. One was the shooting in Washington, DC targeting GOP Members of Congress playing softball. I’m not sure why they were removed, but because the two events fit the definition of a mass shooting, I left them in my spreadsheet.

  • This is very well put together, the pie-charts, especially, do a good job illustrating who’s actually doing the shooting. I agree with you points on registration, too. I don’t think guns need to be completely taken off the market (that’ll just give gun-runners and drug-lords more money) but simply tightening the qualifications to own a gun should help screen out people who are unfit to own them. Gun ownership should be a privilege, not a given.

    • Thanks Bluebeard, I agree with you. The Bill of Rights is part of the DNA of this country; although case law has provided some exceptions* for certain amendments, I’m against wholesale tossing entire amendments of the Bill of Rights out (such as the 2nd). People in this debate seem to often characterize it as all or nothing; either no guns period, or totally unrestricted firearms. There are reasonable steps that can be taken that don’t involve hyperbole!

      (* Like the 1st’s unprotected speech exceptions incitement/defamation/obscenity/fighting words, the 4th’s “right of the people” not applying to criminals, minors, non-USPERs, etc.)

  • Just leaving an update here. I have made some text modifications recently to this article, to include more concrete ideas on how to address this issue. Basically some gun control measures that I think, when taken together, would help overall.

    My motivation for this clarification was the mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida on February 14th. 17 people were killed, and it seems to have initiated more conversation about gun control than most mass shootings do. I think because the kids have been so vocal. I really hope something comes of it.

    I haven’t updated the data for more recent shooting victim numbers. I only added a couple graphs, and the section with ideas for gun control.

  • Pingback: Mass Shooting Research Part 1; Mother Jones Data | Amdall Gallery

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