U.S. has 5% of World Population, but 31% of Public Shootings of 4 or more Victims

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
(photo: Jessica Hill, AP)

Advocates for gun control are likely to seize on a new study showing the U.S. has experienced nearly a third of all public mass shootings worldwide over a nearly 50-year period, despite having only 5% of the world’s population.


Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, examined local police and federal law enforcement data from 1966 to 2012 and determined the U.S. had 31% of the world’s public mass shootings (those with four or more victims, according to the FBI’s definition). Over the course of 46 years, the U.S. experienced 90 such shootings.


A big takeaway from the study is that the U.S. could benefit from having fewer guns in circulation. Lankford found that the U.S. has “over 200 million more firearms in circulation than any other country,” he told Phys.org, so “it's not surprising that our public mass shooters would be more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons than foreign offenders.”


“My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation's civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters,” said Lankford. “Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings. My study provides empirical evidence of a positive association between the two.”


“The most obvious implication is that the United States could likely reduce its number of school shootings, workplace shootings, and public mass shootings in other places if it reduced the number of guns in circulation,” he added.


He pointed to Australia as an example. “From 1987-1996, four public mass shootings occurred in Australia,” Lankford said. “Just 12 days after a mass shooter killed 35 people in the last of these attacks, Australia agreed to pass comprehensive gun control laws. It also launched a major buyback program that reduced Australia's total number of firearms by 20 percent. My study shows that in the wake of these policies, Australia has yet to experience another public mass shooting.”


What did surprise Lankford was the U.S. had a lower average of victims in such shootings (6.87) compared to other countries (8.81).


The upside of America’s frequent mass shootings, according to Lankford, is that police get lots of experience dealing with and training for these incidents, which can help reduce the number of victims.


Following the U.S. at the top of the list of countries with the most public mass shootings is the Philippines (with 18 such shootings during the 46-year period), Russia (15), Yemen (11) and France (10). The five countries with the highest civilian firearm ownership rates—the U.S., Yemen, Switzerland, Finland and Serbia—are among the 15 countries with the most mass shootings. That suggests that “essentially you can’t be in the top five in firearm ownership and not have this problem,” Lankford told Newsweek.


The definition of “mass public shootings,” as used in the study, excludes incidents that involved robberies, drive-by shootings, hostage taking, or shootings that that were primarily gang-related or occurred in domestic settings.


It is the first quantitative analysis of all such reported shootings across the globe.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

US Has Five Percent of World's Population, But Had 31 Percent of Its Public Mass Shooters from 1966-2012 (Phys.org)

Study: Mass Shootings ‘Exceptionally American Problem’ (by Stav Ziv, Newsweek)

As Mass Shootings Continue, Congress Remains Gun Shy about Enacting New Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


harley 8 years ago
Leigh and The Q: don't bother insulting me when you read the info below. I'm a constitutionalist and lover of true facts, not someone with a Second Amendment agenda to grind one way or the other. Prof. Lankford (not Lankham as The Q calls him, really you couldn't carry a factual name from one line to the next without messing it up?) has nothing to do with the FBI, and vice versa. The FBI did a report, one of many it does in an effort to determine patterns and causes of crime so it can improve its crime prevention and response. Lankford took data from the FBI report and used it to make his points; whether the FBI data are properly interpreted by Lankford is a question for those who know how to examine data, not you or me. The FBI's investigative report used a definition of "mass shooting" and "active shooter" that it determined was 3 or more dead, not 3 or more shot, or more than 3 shots. Thus, Hectorville, Monash, and Lindt in Australia would not qualify as "mass shootings" per the FBI criteria despite your assertion. Read the FBI report to get its rationale for using 3 or more killed as the criteria for a "mass shooting," it essentially comes from shootings that kill more the "common" one or two people and are done by individuals that fit a certain profile that is "uncommon" per what happens on a common or typical basis. It's a measurement, not a conspiracy by the FBI or anyone else to undermine the Second Amendment. Facts aren't optional when agencies like the FBI do research for important purposes like understanding or fighting crime. As a citizen, I'm glad the FBI is trying to figure out how to predict, prevent, and properly respond to "mass shooters" and "mass shootings." I think almost everyone would prefer there would be few such mass killings, regardless of your personal view of the Second Amendment. Unless you like mass shootings?
Leigh 8 years ago
Yet to experience a public mass shooting? Monash university 2002... 7 people shot. Hectorville siege 2011. Lindt cafe 2 hostages 1 cop and the perpetrator shot
The Quartermaster 8 years ago
Oh, you ALLGOV guys are just another bunch of Obama followers. Whatever he says, fall in line with it. It must be good. It isn't. No more than this Prof Lankford who has just published this so-called ground-breaking study which has been done before countless times in case you ALLGOV lackeys are ignorant of such. Lankford out and out lies. So does Obama. And Australia HAS had mass shooting since anti-gun and confiscation laws passed. Look up Monash University shooting killing 2 wounding 5 until jumped by classmates. By a guy who was licensed no less. Great law there, really stopped that guy. There are 20,000 anti-gun laws in the US. Another is going to do the trick to stop all gun violence. How naive can you get. Confiscate all USA guns? Great idea! Then only cops, criminals, military and government will have guns. Compare THAT to the past regimes. Anti-gun laws are stupid. What we really need is to have far more civilian concealed guns around all over the place. Because the only thing that stops a bad gunner is another gun manned by the good guy(s).
The Quartermaster 8 years ago
Using Australian Gun Control as a model for the USA is preposterous. Such different countries. Gun Control would have been done already in the US if those wise guys, our founding Fathers, hadn't made such a big deal about including it in that pesky Bill of Rights. #2. Behind Freedom. Of Speech. Publication. Prof Lankham, you are anti-freedom.

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