We often hear about mass shootings on the news. A gunman open firing on a country music festival, a 27-year-old mother helping to kill 14 partygoers at her significant other's workplace and someone shooting nine people at an African-American church in Charleston are just a few examples.
These acts are documented, though not thoroughly — there's numerous websites out there keeping databases of them as well as the FBI's error-ridden one — and there's not actually a universal definition of what a mass shooting is.
The FBI defines a mass shooting as "a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident" generally in the same place, "with no distinctive time period between the murders." Gun Violence Archive has a similar definition, except they specify that the number of people injured or killed must not include the shooter. Finally, Mass Shooting Tracker counts all people who are shot, explaining a mass shooting as an "incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree," which can include the shooter or "police shootings of civilians around the gunman."
Mass shootings seem to be going down, according to three datasets I combed through, but it's tough to tell by how much since each organization has different classifications of what counts as a mass shooting.
Mass Shootings in the US
In the chart above you can see that mass shootings are on the rise, no matter the source used. The data for 2017 dips off because there's still more than a month left in the year, but we can assume that the trend will remain the same.
People can get their hands on guns very easily in the United States. It takes several minutes and only consists of a background check for in-store purchases, but since providing your social security number is optional, could be manipulated or provide false results. More than 230 million checks have been made, according to the FBI, resulting in a mere 1.3 million denials.
However, people looking to purchase a gun aren't required to do a background check if purchasing a gun at a gun show or from a friend or family.
The ease of obtaining a gun in the United States has led to devastating results. On November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Devin Patrick Kelley entered a church and killed 26 people while injuring another 20. The Los Vegas shooting has the same ending, but with at least 50 killed and hundreds injured. Then there's the Sandy Hook shooting — an act of terrorism that happened inside an elementary school, for crying out loud — killing 20 children between the ages of six and seven as well as six staff.
USA Today completed an investigation on the amount of mass shootings in the United States, only to discover that the FBI's own records are incomplete and filled with errors. In many cases it's up to local police to report these crimes to the FBI, but a lot of the time this doesn't happen.
To better understand the amount of mass shootings happening in the country we need access to a reliable, comprehensive database. The government had previously studied the impacts of gun violence in instances like this by means of the CDC, but defunded the efforts decades ago. Until we can get an accurate, official database, it looks like it's up to organizations like Mass Shooting Tracker to record these incidents so the public can make informed decisions about guns.