This holiday season has come with ill tidings with respect to gun violence:
“At least 28 people were wounded in 3 separate shootings across these 3 states this weekend,” CNN, Dec. 23, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/23/us/three-shootings-baltimore-minnesota-chicago/index.html
“13 people were shot at a Chicago house party honoring a man killed earlier this year,” CNN, Dec. 22, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/22/us/chicago-shooting-sunday/index.html
We regretfully predict as part of our 2020 forecast that gun violence will continue to escalate, as will more and more surveillance to thwart it. Also, the outlook is for further intense debate on the issue but little or no significant policy change. Such is the present condition of American politics.
Now here’s some factual research. The Dec. 6, 2019 shooting at the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Air Station prompted us to dig deeper into the appalling phenomenon of mass shootings.
We found that definitions of the term mass shootings, and therefore the statistics regarding them, are all over the board. We thought it would be helpful to survey the entire range of definitions and numbers.
Wikipedia cites totals for mass shootings for the years 2017, 2018, and 2019: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States. In the preface to its tally of shootings, Wikipedia summarizes the varying definitions of mass shootings, listed roughly from most broad to most restrictive:
• “Stanford MSA Data Project: 3+ shot in one incident, at one location, at roughly the same time, excluding organized crime as well as gang-related and drug-related shootings. [See https://github.com/StanfordGeospatialCenter/MSA, but note that this research project was suspended in 2016.]
• Gun Violence Archive/Vox: 4+ shot in one incident, excluding the perpetrator(s), at one location, at roughly the same time. [See http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/mass-shooting. According the GVA’s definition, there were 340 mass shootings in 2018.]
• Mother Jones: 3+ shot and killed in one incident, excluding the perpetrator(s), at a public place, excluding gang-related killings. [See https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/. By the Mother Jones definition, there were 12 mass shootings in 2018.]
• The Washington Post: 4+ shot and killed in one incident, excluding the perpetrator(s), at a public place, excluding gang-related killings. [See https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/mass-shootings-in-america/. By the Post’s definition, there were only 8 mass shootings (or killings) in 2018.]
• Congressional Research Service: 4+ shot and killed in one incident, excluding the perpetrator(s), at a public place, excluding gang-related killings, acts … that were inspired by criminal profit, and terrorism.” [See https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=787620.]
Rather than tracking “mass shootings,” the FBI tracks “active shooter incidents” and defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill [with one or more firearms] people in a populated area.”
[See https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-in-the-us-2018-041019.pdf/view.] According to the FBI, there were 27 active shooter incidents in 2018.
Because there is no one standard definition, the annual totals for mass shootings in recent years range from several hundred (according to the Stanford, Mass Shooting Tracker, and Gun Violence Archive definitions) down to fewer than a dozen (according to the Mother Jones, Washington Post, and Congressional Research Service data).
The key difference between the high totals and the much lower ones is that the former counts include people that were shot, while the latter include people shot and killed. The lower figures are, in fact, perhaps best identified as mass killings.
That said, Mother Jones makes a strong case for their more conservative approach:
“Our research focused on indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims killed by the attacker. We exclude shootings stemming from more conventionally motivated crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence. Other news outlets and researchers have since published larger tallies that include a wide range of gun crimes in which four or more people have been either wounded or killed. While those larger datasets of multiple-victim shootings are useful for studying the broader problem of gun violence, our investigation provides an in-depth look at a distinct phenomenon—from the firearms used and mental health factors to the growing copycat problem. Tracking mass shootings is complex; we believe ours is the most useful approach.”
In an accompanying article (“No, There Has Not Been a Mass Shooting Every Day This Year,” https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/12/no-there-were-not-355-mass-shootings-this-year/) Mother Jones states,
“Even as these mass shootings have grown more frequent and loom large in our consciousness, they are a tiny fraction of America’s gun violence and remain relatively rare. Yet many news outlets keep declaring that there have been upwards of ‘355 mass shootings this year’ or ‘more than one mass shooting per day.’ Many gun control advocates say the same.
“This wildly inflated statistic isn’t just misleading the public – it’s stirring undue fear and may be encouraging bad policies….
“Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them – and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise…”
Still, it is arguable that the more liberal definition of mass shooting is also quite pertinent to public discussion and the formulation of policy. After all, in these more broadly defined incidents, someone aimed a gun at his or her fellow citizens and shot at least three of them. If that were to happen anywhere near you or your loved ones, you would certainly think the attack significant and troubling, whether it was hospitalizations or funerals that followed, and you would want the shooting to stop.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, over 80,000 Americans have been killed due to gun violence since 2014, and more than 157,000 have been injured. Of those, 3,766 young children and 16,069 teenagers were killed or injured by firearms in the same period (https://www.statista.com/chart/18909/figures-related-to-gun-violence-in-the-us/; hat tip: Mead Briggs).
Mass shootings are not just limited to the civilian domain; they also happen on military bases, as we just saw at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where a Saudi trainee killed 3 and wounded 8 before being killed himself (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/07/us/nas-pensacola-shooting-shooter-victims.html). It was the second shooting at a Navy base within a single week.
Most of us remember the 2014 Fort Hood shooting, where 3 died and 16 were injured at the hands of an army psychiatrist who was likely suffering from PTSD. Here are a couple of articles that list and describe such shootings:
It is possible, of course, to debate the definition of the term mass shooting, as if one definition could be right and all the others flawed. Ultimately, however, the numbers by a range of definitions offer us differing cross sections of gun violence in America. To understand the import of any set of numbers, we need to know how the counting was done.
Perhaps it is the lone wolf active shooter unleashing death in random places that most effectively terrorizes our imaginations, but all the other shootings and all the other deaths matter, too. The fact that most mass shooting incidents revolve around criminal activity and occur in impoverished urban neighborhoods is not so much an argument for omitting them from the mass shooting statistics as it is a statistically supported clarion call to all branches and levels of government for them to do a better job of creating and implementing public policy. Our regretful 2020 forecast says government is not yet up to this task; hence, more gun deaths coming in 2020.
Read the full series, 1-7, of “Year-End & 2020 Forecast Notes” by David R. Kotok at this link:
Links to other websites or electronic media controlled or offered by Third-Parties (non-affiliates of Cumberland Advisors) are provided only as a reference and courtesy to our users. Cumberland Advisors has no control over such websites, does not recommend or endorse any opinions, ideas, products, information, or content of such sites, and makes no warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of their content. Cumberland Advisors hereby disclaims liability for any information, materials, products or services posted or offered at any of the Third-Party websites. The Third-Party may have a privacy and/or security policy different from that of Cumberland Advisors. Therefore, please refer to the specific privacy and security policies of the Third-Party when accessing their websites.
Sign up for our FREE Cumberland Market Commentaries
Cumberland Advisors Market Commentaries offer insights and analysis on upcoming, important economic issues that potentially impact global financial markets. Our team shares their thinking on global economic developments, market news and other factors that often influence investment opportunities and strategies.