Guns, crime and stats in the U.S.

‘Going postal’ is the tip of the iceberg. The larger problem lies beneath the surface


Going postal’—committing mass murder in a public place—seems to have become a horrifying symptom of our times. The latest example, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, has left Americans divided as to how to proceed. Recent data on mass shootings compiled and released by Mother Jones shed some new light on the issues.

The data refer to gun homicides in the U.S., during the past three decades, committed at a single time, away from home, and involving four or more victims. What’s fascinating in these numbers, grim as they are, is that they are often merely the tip of the iceberg: the larger truth lies beneath the surface.

Number of mass shootings in the United States since 1982: 62.

That’s a startling number, to be sure. But what’s truly startling is that despite their dramatic nature, mass shootings together account for “only” 1,007 deaths over 30 years. To put that in perspective, more than 11,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2009. In Chicago alone in 2012, 500 people have been killed in homicides. In the week after Sandy Hook, 100 Americans were killed by guns.

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which the shooter, or shooters were men: 61.

Is anyone surprised that the majority of mass shooters were male? Probably not. But that only one of the killers was female must surely be cause for serious consideration. Gun ownership among women in the U.S. as of 2005 was roughly 13 per cent; for men it was 47 per cent. Perhaps more important though, is how likely women are to be victims of gun crime. Harvard Injury Control Research Centre puts it this way: more guns = more female violent deaths.

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 involving semiautomatic or assault weapons: 58.

All but four of 62 shootings included one or more semiautomatic handguns, or one or more assault weapons, or both. There’s a widespread belief that the Second Ammendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as ‘the right to bear arms’, gives carte blanche to gun owners.

Perhaps not: the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 affirmed “The Second Amendment right is not a right to keep and carry any weapon in any manner and for any purpose.” Hence, a ban on semiautomatic and assault weapons might not be in violation of the Second Ammendment.

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters used weapons obtained legally: 49.

This figure does not include the two semi-automatics Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook shootings. They’re considered to have been illegally obtained because Lanza apparently stole them from his mother—who obtained them legally, and taught him to use them. (An important fact not dealt with in the popular ‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ post by Liza Long.) In five of the 11 cases of illegally obtained guns in the Mother Jones data set, the weapons were stolen from family members.

Incidentally, in 2004, the makers of a Bushmaster assault rifle similar to the one Adam Lanza stole were sued for allowing their product to fall into the wrong hands after it was used in the Washington, D.C. shooting spree. Since then, the NRA lobbied for, and got Congress to pass a law that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits seeking to hold them liable for gun crimes.

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 that ended as murder-suicides: 36.

This number may be even higher, because in seven instances, the shooters were ultimately killed by law enforcement officers in scenarios viewable as suicide by cop. For obvious reasons, a lot of attention is being paid to firearm homicides. But did you know firearm suicides are more common?

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters had shown signs of mental illness: 40.

This should be the place where gun advocates, and gun control advocates can find common ground. Responsible gun dealers must want to eliminate those who are mentally ill and at risk for violence from their pool of potential customers. But that’s not always possible right now. A mere 12 states account for the vast majority of queries to the FBI database set up for the purpose. Nineteen states have submitted fewer than 100 records each to the FBI database.

One challenge in focusing on mental illness will be not stigmatizing mentally ill people. It’s been duly noted that most mentally ill people don’t commit violent crimes. But it’s also true, as one pundit put it, that “anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill”.

U.S. mass shootings that have occurred since 2006: 25.

Gun ownership is up, way up, in the U.S. since 1982, having outpaced population growth during the period reported by the survey. There are now nearly as many guns in the U.S. as people, which means there’s more than one for every adult American. At least 118 million of those are handguns, according to Mother Jones. And recent mass shootings have caused spikes in gun sales. As gun sales have gone up, so have mass shootings. Coincidence?

U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.

The NRA’s notion, that schools should be armed to prevent massacres like the one at Sandy Hook, is not borne out by the record. Mother Jones found that an armed bystander played a role in only one of the 62 mass shootings examined—by shooting the perpetrator after he had already fled the scene.

Politically, the issue of mass shootings is a highly visible, volatile one, for obvious reasons. No one wants another Sandy Hook, any more than anyone wanted another Aurora, another Virginia Tech, another Columbine. People keep “going postal,” and the horrifying results are plain to see.

But “going postal,” however common it appears, however visible its impact, remains relatively rare—mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the deaths associated with guns in the United States today.

Put bluntly, mass shootings are not the problem. They are a symptom of the problem. The problem is as simple as the numbers; the solution is as complicated as the politics that surround it.


Guns, crime and stats in the U.S.

  1. No one is going postal but the government. Why do you think all these mass shootings all of sudden start popping up with the assailant using a assault rifle. The government wants to remove guns from public ownership, especially ones that can be used to defend ones home and liberty. If we jump on board with gun control and give all of our guns to the government, what will you use to protect your beliefs when the government decides to control you. Guns protect yourself, you freedom, your liberty, and your rights. Give up guns, you give up everything else.

    • It’s almost comical if it wasn’t so stupid. Are you aware that your family members are far more likely to be shot if you own guns? A person living in a gun-free house is much safer. You’re not protecting your family. You’re endangering them.

      • Does that include the family members of gang members and drug dealers?

        • Do family members of gang members and drug dealers somehow matter less?

      • How about someone comes by and puts that sign on your front lawn or apartment door that says: “We are a Gun Free Home”

        ..Now how safe would you feel?

        “Are you aware that your family members are far more likely to be shot if you own guns?”

        This is from that old discredited Kellerman study that the paranoids drag out from time to time, until more and more people point out that it was a thoroughly discredited study. Just like virtually ALL the studies trotted out by the paranoid Gun Control Freaks..


        • “How about someone comes by and puts that sign on your front lawn or apartment door that says: “We are a Gun Free Home”

          ..Now how safe would you feel?”
          I don’t live in Somalia or whatever failed state you call home, so approximately as safe as I did before (well, less now I suppose, seeing as I’m evidently being staked out by some sort of gun rights nut job).

    • Paranoia will destroya…

      So you disagree with the gov’t…so you going to shoot someone tough guy?

      Gun owner ship is directly proportional to the size of you penis…the more guns…the smaller your…

      Grow up…gov’t already does control you…what are you going to do about it?

      • Shoot paper targets and play ‘blackhawk down’ in the forest with my buddies of course! How else does democracy work?

      • “Gun ownership is directly proportional to the size of your penis…”

        Huh. So, you’ve spent a lot of time examining gun owners’ penises?

    • Modern governments are armed with everything from fighter jets, to tanks, to drones, and even nuclear weapons. Do you really believe that if the big, bad government decides to “control you” (cue sinister music), that handguns, or small arms fire will successfully repel them?

  2. How are you measuring mass shootings prevented by an armed bystander? If they stopped the shooter before they were able to kill a “mass” amount of people, then wouldn’t it be just a normal shooting? I think you need to look at those instances for your information to be valid.

    • So.. you’ve got one. And not just by an armed bystander, but by an off-duty law enforcement official, with all of the appropriate training thereof.

      • Within 30 days. You don’t know what training he had. If he was up to RCMP standards he’d have about 60 hours firearms training the academy (including waiting his turn almost half the time) and then would perhaps fire an antiquated qualification shoot annually. Not a very high bar to reach.

        • You are absolutely Correct! Unfortunately the consensus media is the REAL problem.. In the incredible hurry to out do each other, they will print just about anything simply to Sensationalize ANY form of violence because if it Bleeds it leads, and rarely does it actually contain accurate information..This is the same pack that has just named murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta as Canada’s 2012 News maker of the Year. Wow, how wonderful that they have finally set the bar and purpose to acclaim the next murdering news maker of the year. EVERYTHING proposed by the NRA will work, because it HAS worked in other countries. EVERYTHING proposed by the hand wringing, left has NEVER worked ANYWHERE in the world! They just can’t bring themselves to believe their wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence. Gun Free Zones are the problem.. It’s not as if the Nut-Job looks at the sign and thinks Oh darn I can’t shoot anyone here.. The Nut-Job looks at the signs and thinks wow.. I’m safe from anyone that’s going to try and shoot me.. All Lefties Give your head a shake. When you call 911 you are calling for someone ‘else’ to bring a gun to your rescue. Cops are not Jedi Knights, ANYONE can be trained to the same level as your average traffic cop. I used to shoot on a regular basis with people that could draw a pistol, and put 8 holes in the ‘A’ zone of four targets in under 3 seconds. Many of these people fired upwards of 30,000 rounds a year, and were experts. Compare this with your average traffic cop. Most just have rudimentary training, and most only fire a gun once a year to qualify themselves to continue to carry what is largely a decoration on their uniform, yet for some reason, the public seems to think this is OK.. This is NOT OK. With a few exceptions, most civilian shooters are FAR better trained, and safer than your average police officer. If you don’t Believe me ask anyone that shoots regularly on a range with police officers.
          The stories could make your hair curl..

    • Anybody who links to infowars for anything has discredited their own argument before anybody else can even get a chance to respond.

  3. Mother Jones…This reeks of a self serving agenda! No thankyou Macleans or sister publications asserting to be of balanced reporting.

  4. The big reason Americans want to own a gun is for “protection”. The number of gun owners who have no training in the use of the weapon is not discussed — these folks are probably as likely to have the weapon taken away from them and used by the “bad guy” as any other outcome, and are also likely to shoot innocent bystanders when they do succeed in trying to defend themselves.

    Another thing that isn’t discussed is that when the “bad guys” enter your home either you’re not there (most likely) in which case the stock of weapons becomes part of their loot, or if they’re bold enough to enter while you’re home it’s because they’re skillful enough that you won’t know they’re there til they’re standing over you with the gun you were nice enough to provide in the night stand.

    The second amendment was made law immediately after the US achieved independence with the use of privately owned muskets that were the same as those used by the British troops. The second amendment was designed to ensure that the possibility of a tyrannical government enslaving the American population was made impossible. Obviously any “army” of assault weapon equipped rednecks trying to overthrow the government supported by trained troops with the equipment they now have is ludicrous, so the second amendment has outlived it’s usefulness and instead has become an obstacle to reasonable debate on guns in the US.

    • “Obviously any “army” of assault weapon equipped rednecks trying to
      overthrow the government supported by trained troops with the equipment
      they now have is ludicrous, so the second amendment has outlived….”

      Tell that to the Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians. The history of conflict since 1945 points to exactly the opposite conclusion. Guerrilla forces have been successful despite being outgunned.

      • The Afghans, Libyans and Syrians all had, or are still receiving, significant help from external parties. And the Iraqis that rose up after the first Gulf War were brutally put down by Saddam. Even the Viet Cong and NVA could not have beaten France or the United States in Vietnam without a LOT of help from China and Russia.

        Who do you think will come to aid of Billy Bob Six-Pack when he and his buddies decide to rise up against an evil government that insists they have health insurance? Probably not the French this time around, considering all the thanks they got for ensuring the success of the last American revolution.

        • Eventually most guerrillas do get outside help. Eventually. At the start they’re on their own and the ownership of large numbers of military rifles would be nothing to sneeze at. Most of the anti-colonial guerrilla groups would have no occupier to fight if their ancestors had the same rifles as the Europeans. Ask the Afghans how they avoided being part of anyone’s empire.

          • Actually, eventually most guerrillas get killed, or captured and tried as criminals/traitors.

            The Afghans have avoided being part of anyone’s empire largely through being a set of mostly unconnected tribal groups, separated by miles upon miles of hostile, unforgiving terrain that has relatively little productive value.

          • Is it news to you that being a combatant in a war is dangerous? Are you pretending not to have heard of the Indo-China, Viet Nam and Algerian Wars just to name a few?

      • The guerilla forces mentioned above have access to explosives, anti-tank weapons, light and heavy machine guns, and occasionally anti-aircraft weapons. In spite of those advantages, kill ratios are still spectacularly and horrifically lopsided in favour of whatever modernized force they happen up against.

        This isn’t the 18th century anymore.

  5. what a joke look at canada for 3 seconds and tell me u need weaponry in order to maintain “freedom” and “liberty”; or for that matter any country you deem to be similar enough in demographics. The problem arises from the fact you think that you need gun(s), completely paranoid that any given moment a terrible act could be committing against you or ur loved ones. There’s simply one way to kick this; 1007 people have died to mass shootings in 3 decades, where a tenth of that died in shootings in one week prior to sandyhook. Compare these number to accidental suicides, crimes commited using stolen firearms, accidental discharge of weaponry and the fact the younger generation(which im a part of) simply is void of the respect for firearms that i learned. If u crunch the numbers, simply put, a ridiculous amount of lives have been lost in ones vain attempts to feel secure…. and moreover you have effectively allowed additional “regular shootings” to occur when you have excessive abundance of guns. And you have allowed more people to die trying to “protect and prevent” then will die in the next 50 years of mass murders. Most importantly, you can protect your own liberty with a gun but no one elses and therefore equality doesn’t exist so it is a logical fallacy; not everyone can have a gun on their person or it has destroyed your sense of security once again. you see where i agree with toms logic, there is however no logic in having 85+% of the population with guns because more harm is being done then good(sadly). quite frankly, i think the problem here is procedure. Had proper regulations been put around a building of high importance(such as police at hospitals and high schools) as grim as it may sound to you having police patrolling near the grounds of the school, i beg you to observe the alternatives. who knows, maybe drug usage will go down and the peoples willingness to cooperate with police will increase, even if slightly. just my thoughts on the topic, would love to read more…

  6. ” U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.

    Since the definition of a mass shooting is one in which at least four people were killed how does Mother Jones know how many were prevented? Isn’t it possible that in cases where an armed bystander was present the killer was prevented from killing four people or more?

    Perhaps the lesson is that armed bystanders, if present, always stop mass killings.

    • Did you also know that in every incident of non-mass killings, one or more of the people there has been using dihydrogen monoxide? Obviously the lesson is that this wonder drug stops mass killings.

      • Unfortunately, dihydrogen monoxyde has also been linked to a number of violent deaths throughout the years. A report even hints at dihydrogen monoxyde as a likely cause of many of the deaths during the sinking of the Titanic, a event for which guns deaths where minimal. I think the lack of competence of the police force is more of an issue: In every single case of mass shootings,police have arrived after the killing had begun, a clear lack of foresight and training, I say.

      • A helpful comment.

  7. “more guns= more violent female death”

    Sounds good until you realize that in the US the number of privately owned guns has gone up and the homicide rate steadily down since the 70’s.

    • This is why Canada is overrun with homicides. Wait, that’s dumb.

      FYI, the number of gun owners has also steadily gone down. It’s just more of the same dwindling crowd buying more and more guns.

      • False, the US GSS says gone from 64 million 20 years ago to 87 million households today. And it is probably way more than that because people are disinclined to tell an guy with a handwritten GSS badge, making surprised in anonymous visit to a home, they have guns at home. Reuters estimated about 100 million households now.

        “wait” you say GSS says “less households.” No in fact they say 25% MORE households. What they say is less “proportion of households” because they now count 400 people living in an assisted living facility as 400 households, and 1000 students in dual occupancy dormitories as 500 households. So what they did was double the base number of households per capita in the US (down form 3.2 people per household to 1.67 people per household.

  8. ” Hence, a ban on semiautomatic and assault weapons might not be in violation of the Second Ammendment (sic).”

    Whether you like the 2nd Amendment or not it’s dishonest to pretend that it’s purpose is not to ensure that military weapons are available to the public. One of the few US Supreme Court decisions on guns found that a short barreled shotgun could be regulated because it was not used by the military.The court was misinformed but the point is clear- the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with sports or hunting. It is designed to ensure that the public have access to military grade arms. It also has nothing to do with the authority to create the army. If it did it wouldn’t be in the Bill of Rights along with the nine other articles restraining the power of the state.

    • So people should be allowed RPG launchers then?

      • RPG launchers are legal here and under certain circumstances in the US…but you didn’t know that did you and thought that was a clever question. Citizens also own tanks, heavy machine guns and cannons and have done so for years without incident.

        Have you thought about how much explosives are used in the mining, farming, construction and entertainment industries? That should worry you more.

    • Civilian nuclear warheads for all! Don’t let the precedent of Hiroshima let the government take your freedom!

  9. Only one problem here, the last one.

    If an armed bystander shoots the bad guy at the start — it ain’t a mass shooting. The Rochester inferno and the San Antonio restaurant-theater thing make the point, even if both were cops.

    Mass shootings are such because nobody stops the killer before he is finished killing. And mass shooters will kill until they can kill no more, or until they face resistance. Whatever the larger societal forces involved, until the “mass shooter” mind no longer exists, there will be mass events, and guess what — duck, cover and wait doesn’t work.

  10. Live by the gun – die by the gun. There is no end to the stupidity of the ignorant masses.

  11. “U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.”

    Well, isn’t this a bit naive or misleading. Couldn’t it be that there were no armed bystanders in schools attacked or in the Denver shopping mall (where that US politician was shot) which banned them ?

    • it is a bogus claim. there were three attempted mass shootings stopped by armed bystanders in the past two years according to the FBI’s own site. the author doesnt coutn them beaeue they did not become mass shootings.

      The author logic is IDENTICAL to the anti vaccine crazies who say “number of people saved by vaccines: 0” Because you can actually show specific persons saved.

      And it is a canard. the US CDC says between 500,000 to three million crimes are prevented in the US each year by law abiding armed citizens

  12. Why does the data set start in 1982? It would be best to trek further back in time to get a more accurate trend in statistics.

  13. You are looking at the wrong stats. Look at how many people are making how much money selling the means for whackos to get an ASSAULT rifle, unregistered and with no background check. They making their money they don’t care who you shoot or how many.

  14. A fearful society has no hopes of being a civil society anywhere in the world.

    • gun murder has gone done 58% in two decades in the US, yet most advocates of gun control believe it has gone up (pew study). fear is stoked by the media

  15. Chicago and Toronto are almost identical in population.
    Last year, Chicago had 500 murders. Toronto had 53, of which I believe 34 or fewer were gun related.
    It’s legal to own guns in Canada, and certainly there are handguns in Toronto. Toronto is ethnically diverse, there are gangs, there are drugs and related crime. There must be many similarities to big cities like Chicago.

    So why the difference? Our social safety net? Far fewer guns on the whole? Are we less violent as a people or a culture?

    • Chicago and toronto are not equal demographically at all.

      Chicago and houston are. Houston has little gun control, easily available concealed carry permits and has 1/3 the murder rate of chicago.

  16. Any state or country, that requires its kindergarten teachers and day care providers to be armed, either by law or necessity, has lost the right to call itself civilized.
    It is a failed state.
    Enjoy your nightmare.

    • protecting banks and politicians with arms is ok but not children??????

  17. What percentage were suicide? The number is high. Approx 300,000 assaults per year have been prevented by firearm carrying American citizens.

    • The 2013 CDC report actually says 500,000 to three million crimes prevented each year.

      And in the US 68% of those 30,000 are suicide (08/2013 CDC). It is an anti science canard of the gun control groups to count US suicide by gun but NOT count Canada or Japan suicide by non gun means

      Of the 9,800 murders 85% are criminals killing criminals.

      Fact Japans murder suicide rate is higher than the US. So is S. Korea.

      Fact: if yo are not an active criminal, gang member or prior felon your chance of being murdered in the US is sightly LOWER than the European mean

  18. “U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.”

    The author logic is IDENTICAL to the anti vaccine crazies who say “number of people saved by vaccines: 0”

    Because you can actually show specific persons saved. In htis case we know of dozens of major ATTEMPTED mass shootings ended by a person shooting the perp before they were able to shoot more than a couple of people thereby not raising to mass shooting definition.

    And doubly a a canard. the US CDC says between 500,000 to three million crimes are prevented in the US each year by law abiding armed citizens

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