By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota - Philando Castile - Falcon Heights Police Shooting, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Mass Public Shootings: The traditional definition of this has been four or more people shot to death in a public place and not part of some other crime, like gang fights. This definition focuses on the types of attacks at schools, movie theaters, or other places that have gotten the attention of the news media. These attacks aim to kill as many people as possible, usually for someone trying to commit suicide, but doing so in a way that the person will get media attention they know that the more people they kill, the more attention they will get.


Over the 20 years from 1998 to 2017, the US makes up less than 1.13% of the mass public shooters, which is much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than in other countries, they are also much less deadly on average. Out of the 101 countries where we have identified mass public shootings occurring, the United States ranks 66th in the per capita frequency of these attacks and 56th in the murder rate.


Mass Shooting: This has been four or more people murdered by a gun. It’s disingenuous to equate those incidents with mass public shootings because they have different causes and different policy solutions. These are overwhelmingly criminal cases.


That isn’t to say that gang fights aren’t important or that we shouldn’t care about it, but there are different sets of causes and solutions to deal with those than other types of shootings. Gang fights are primarily fought over drug turf.


The Gun Violence Archive provides another definition of mass shootings. It is now a favorite of many in the media, with the media frequently quoting from them. When you hear claims about one mass shooting a day occurring in the US, it is from the Gun Violence Archive. Instead of using the FBI definition for a mass shooting, they include anyone injured, which is itself very broad, resulting in inflated numbers.


During the Obama administration, the government started releasing reports on active shooting cases. These are cases where a gun is fired in public and not part of some other type of crime, but they range from cases where no one is shot or injured all the way up through mass public shootings.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

CPRC was founded by Dr. John R. Lott, Jr., an economist and a world-recognized expert on guns and crime. Lott recently served in the Trump administration as Senior Advisor for Research and Statistics in the Office of Justice Programs for the US Department of Justice and then the Senior Advisor for Research and Statistics in the Office of Legal Policy for the US Department of Justice. Lott has held research or teaching positions at various academic institutions including the University of Chicago, Yale University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Rice University, and was the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission during 1988-1989. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman noted: “John Lott has few equals as a perceptive analyst of controversial public policy issues.” Lott is a prolific author for both academic and popular publications. He has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and written nine books, including “More Guns, Less Crime,” “The Bias Against Guns,” and “Freedomnomics.” His most recent books are “Dumbing Down the Courts: How politics keeps the smartest judges off the bench” and “The War on Guns.”


  1. The biggest problem with mass shootings is that it’s usually done in places where people can’t defend themselves

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