One of the challenging aspects of discussing mass shootings is the difficulty of defining a mass shooting. There are many definitions that exist across organizations and media outlets, and these different definitions influence the way we think and understand these incidents. At the Coalition we use the Gun Violence Archive’s definition of a mass shooting: an incident in which four or more people are shot and either killed or injured, not including the shooter.
When we use this definition of a mass shooting, we see that several hundreds of mass shootings occur every year, but few gain the level of media attention that a mass shooting at a school or shopping center might. The vast majority of these shootings occur in urban neighborhoods, disproportionately impacting Black communities,(1) but these shootings often receive little if any media attention.
While the majority of mass shootings are the type described above, that doesn’t erase the trauma and grief of this other category of mass shootings, those that occur at schools, shopping centers, places of worship, and others. As with many types of gun violence, the threat of violence leaves behind its own trauma and consequences. More than half of all teenagers report worrying that there will be a mass shooting at their school, and that number is even greater for teens of color.(2) For those who survive a mass shooting, there are lifelong mental and physical health impacts. While research on the aftermath of mass shootings is limited, it is estimated that 95% of survivors of a mass shooting will experience PTSD in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and a significant number of survivors experience other serious mental health issues.(3)
2020 was a record breaking year for gun violence of all kinds, including mass shootings
The Gun Violence Archive reports that there were 610 mass shootings in 2020, up from 417 in 2019.(4)
1 in 3 mass shooters was legally prohibited from owning a firearm at the time of the shooting.(5)
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When the media covers mass shootings, the focus tends to be on shootings that happen at schools, places of worship, malls or grocery stores, and other public, suburban, spaces. When you examine the definition of a mass shooting, a different picture emerges. We know that the majority of people impacted by mass shootings are people of color living in urban areas, but that is not the message we’re given from the media. The way mass shootings are portrayed in the media sends a clear message about whose safety is valued in the US, and whose safety is being overlooked.
It is also important to note the rise in violence connected to white supremacist and other extremist ideologies. Some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent years have been linked to white supremacism and other extremist views, like the 2021 Atlanta Spa shooting, the El Paso shooting in 2019, and the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016.
Mass shootings are often deeply connected to many other issues of gun violence, including community violence, domestic violence, suicide, and extremism. Keeping guns away from individuals with a history of domestic violence is one key way to reduce the number of mass shootings. Policies like the Extreme Risk Protection Order law, which allow a family member or loved one to petition the courts to temporarily remove firearms from an individual who is at risk to themselves or others are a powerful tool to prevent mass shootings. Many mass shooters exhibit warning signs before the attack, and tools like these can help save lives. Policies that restrict access to assault weapons and close loopholes allowing guns to be purchased without background checks are other important ways that we can reduce the number of lives lost to mass shootings.
Mass Shootings Rose In The Pandemic, Disproportionately Hurting Black Neighborhoods. (2021, March 24). Retrieved July 1, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/03/24/980894439/mass-shootings-rose-in-the-pandemic-disproportionately-hurting-black-neighborhoo
Graf, N. (2020, May 30). Majority of teens worry about school shootings, and so do most parents. Retrieved July 1, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiospm&stream=top-stories
The Mental Health Impact of Mass Shootings. (2019, February). Retrieved July 1, 2021, from https://brady-static.s3.amazonaws.com/Report/MentalHealthImpactOfMassShootings.pdf
Gun Violence Archive. (2021, July 1). Retrieved July 1, 2021, from https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls
Marco della Cava and Mike Stucka. (2021, February 26). Mass shootings surge in Massachusetts as nation faces record high. Retrieved July 1, 2021, from https://www.thegardnernews.com/story/news/2021/02/26/gda-mass-shootings-rise-in-2020-ma-ngar/43442503/