|Members of Emanuel AME Church mourning in the aftermath|
2015 certainly looks and feels like the “year of the mass shooting.” Charleston, Roseburg, San Bernadino. These are a few of the many tragic cases of mass shootings that have rocked families and communities across the US.
Each of these stories have received a ton of mass media attention; we see images of crime scenes, hear first-person accounts of survivors and the families of victims, and learn quite a bit about the deranged people behind these atrocities. Mass shootings are a sad--but all too familiar--reminder of the work ahead to end gun violence in the US.
But, are mass shootings really on the rise? And are they really a big part of the gun violence epidemic?
Some descriptive data helps put mass shootings in context. The folks at Mass Shooting Tracker have compiled the best data on mass shootings (events where 4 or more people get shot) in the US. To my knowledge, they have the best national data on mass shootings around.
Here are some useful statistics:
2013: 364 mass shootings -- 502 people killed
2014: 337 mass shootings – 383 people killed
2015: 353 mass shootings (to date) – 462 people killed
During this same period, the US has averaged about 30,000 gun-related deaths each year. About 20,000 of these are suicide related deaths while 10,000 or so are homicide-related. To date, we are on pace to see somewhere in the ballpark of 460 gun deaths caused by mass shootings. This represents about 1.5% of the total number of lives lost to guns in the US. And according to Mass Shooting Tracker, this number is actually a dip from the 502 mass shooting deaths in 2013.
So, why then are we so fixated on mass shootings?
|Police in San Bernadino responded heroically|
From a popular media perspective, mass shootings are a lot like serial killings. They are unusually tragic events that make for salacious headlines. The news media loves to focus on mass shootings because they are so atypical.
If anything, mass shootings bring into focus the experiences of families, friends, and entire communities rocked by fatal shootings. The other day, there was a great article in the Washington Post about families of children slain at Sandy Hook. Three years later, families are still picking up the pieces. The psychic wounds from losing a child, sibling, or best friend don't just get better. They take a long time to heal, if ever. Hopefully we can use the attention from these tragic events to highlight the support we should also be pouring into neighborhoods and communities where young people are getting killed with guns everyday. Too many people in places like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Compton, St. Louis, Baltimore, and other places know the pain of losing someone to gun violence.
Maybe we can start by writing members of Congress, asking them to lift the ban on CDC funds to study the problem of gun violence? Without rigorous science, how can we expect to come up with interventions to end gun violence?