Any violence is reprehensible and any mass shooting is horrific but the politicization by the media of the recent back-to-back shootings in Dayton and El Paso that left a total of at least 29 people dead demands an objective look at the statistical reality. Policy change and legislation should be undertaken in a manner that seeks solutions rather than in an emotional flurry that can exacerbate the problem.
The Statistics: Not a Simple Place to Start
The definition of what constitutes a mass shooting is problematic and can determine what the statistics seem to show. The precise inclusion criteria are disputed, and there is no broadly accepted definition. In its simplest form, Mass shootings are defined as incidents involving multiple victims of firearm-related violence. Most statistics include incidents with three or more victims with some including incidents with four or more. This definition does not take into account the motive behind the attack.
According to this definition, there have been a total of 251 mass shootings in 2019, or an average of 1.2 mass shootings per day. 979 people were shot and of those people, 246 have died. The vast majority of these shootings were crime-related.
A Washington Post article published in 2017 narrowed that definition to attacks which killed at least four people and excluded gang killings, domestic violence, or terrorist acts sponsored by an organization. Using this definition, the article cited claimed there were 163 mass shootings in the United States between 1967 and June 2019.
By all accounts, the U.S. has far more than its share of mass shootings with some estimates claiming that fully one-third of the mass-shootings around the world are carried out in the U.S. This is probably due to the U.S. having the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world with 120.5 firearms per 100 people.
It is interesting to note that a 2014 study by Dr. James Fox found that 62 percent of mass shootings were committed with handguns and only 25 percent were committed with semi-automatic rifles. Semi-automatic rifles have been used in six of the ten deadliest mass shootings.
Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur has tripled since 2011. Conversely, despite the number of public mass shootings increasing substantially in recent years, there has been an approximately 50 percent decrease in firearm homicides in the nation overall since 1993.
The majority of perpetrators are white males who act alone but the proportion of mass shooters in the United States who are white and male is not considerably greater than the proportion of white males in the general population of the U.S.
Media: Biased and Sometimes Even Worse Than That
But all of these statistics are affected by interpretation of what defines a mass shooting. More importantly, the public reaction to the events is heavily influenced by the media. One such example was a widely shared meme circulating in mid-February 2018 which stated that there had been eighteen “school shootings” so far in 2018. This was debunked by USA Today which discovered that the statistic was a reference to incidents involving the firing of weapons on school grounds, three of which were accidental and only seven of which resulted in injuries.
It is difficult to consider these statistics just a few days after two shootings but most media are already politicizing the attacks, blaming President Trump despite his remarks condemning the attacks, calling them “an unspeakable act of evil.” All eight of the Democratic presidential candidates blamed Trump to some degree with four linking the president to white nationalism. An analysis by the NY Times ran under the headline “El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoed Trump’s Language.”
This far exceeds any criticism President Obama received in the wake of mass shootings. Trump critics might claim that there were far fewer shootings during Obama’s administration, blaming the rise in attacks on Trump. In fact, Obama’s presidency marked a sharp rise in mass shootings which seemed to pass unnoticed by the mainstream media.
The rise was noticed by Snopes, a fact-checking website that has been accused of having a strong left-wing bias. Snopes addressed the claim that “Vastly more mass shootings have taken place during President Obama’s administration than that of any other recent President.” Citing an article in Truth Stream Media which claimed that there were “more mass shootings under President Obama than the four previous Presidents combined, as well as a much greater incidence of mass shootings involving eight or more victims”, Snopes investigated and labeled the claim as ‘False’.
Truth Stream Media claimed the following statistics:
Mass Shootings under the Last Five Presidents
Ronald Reagan: 1981-1989 (8 years) 11 mass shootings
Incidents with 8 or more deaths = 5
George H. W. Bush: 1989-1993 (4 years) 12 mass murders
Incidents with 8 or more deaths = 3
Bill Clinton: 1993-2001 (8 years) 23 mass murders
Incidents with 8 or more deaths = 4
George W. Bush: 2001-2009 (8 years) 20 mass murders
Incidents with 8 or more deaths = 5
Barrack H. Obama: 2009-2015 (in 7th year) 162 mass murders
Incidents with 8 or more deaths = 18
According to this report, Obama’s administration saw a huge spike in the number of mass shootings and the resulting deaths.
But Snopes disputed the reporting and changed the parameters defining mass shootings. Using their revised definition of mass shootings, Snopes determined that 31, not 162, mass shootings took place in the United States during the seven-year span from the start of President Obama’s first term through the end of 2015. Though this still has significantly more mass shootings taking place on Obama’s watch than any president who came before, it was not “vastly more”, which was the claim that Snopes ‘debunked.’
An article in National Affairs in the spring of 2018 investigated the same issue, listing the “Deadliest American Mass shootings” by the president, beginning with Lyndon Baines Johnson, who took office in 1963. Similar to the report in Truth Stream Media, National Affairs attributed 24 of the deadliest mass shootings to the Obama administration, three times more than the two previous administrations and more than the three preceding administrations combined. The article noted that the Obama administration was heavily criticized for not addressing the terrorist nature, specifically Islamist, of several of the attacks.
The worst shooting in U.S. history took place on Trump’s watch in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 when 58 people were killed. Ironically, the worst shooting targeting a political party also took place on Trump’s watch on June 14, 2017, during a practice session for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity when a supporter of Bernie Sanders targeted Republican politicians.
AUTHOR’S EDITORIAL OPINION: Determining the number of mass shootings is difficult due to varying definitions and factors. A true assessment would require equal parameters while excluding criminal shootings and domestic violence. Excluding terrorist events is equally politicized as several shootings by Muslims during the Obama era were labeled as workplace violence. Most media reacts by politicizing tragedy in order to advance a partisan agenda, or to react against a political agenda.
Nonetheless, after seeing the facts and data I presented in this article, I think it is undeniable that something happened during the Obama administration that led to a sharp increase in mass attacks. I believe it was a type of divisiveness that challenged the very basis the country stands upon. This polarization of the country is literally killing us. As important as it is to stand for principles, it is equally important to stand together and to stand for, and with, your fellow American.
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.