What explains why violent crimes are down in the United States but public shootings are up?
The FBI attempted to narrow the definition in a 2014 report that focused on “active shooter” situations, defined as shootings in which an individual tried to kill people in a public place, and excluding gang- or drug-related violence. The agency found that 160 active-shooter incidents had occurred between 2000 and 2013, and that the number of events was rising. In the first seven years of the period, the average number of active-shooter incidents per year was 6.4. In the final seven years, the annual average rose to 16.4.
In these 160 shootings, 486 people were killed and 557 were wounded, not including the shooters.
The rise in active-shooter events bucks the general trend toward less violent crime in the United States: Overall violent crime dropped 14.5 percent between 2004 and 2013, according to the FBI…
Meanwhile, a just-released study finds that although the United States has just about 5 percent of the world’s population, the country has 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters. The reasons for these numbers are complex, researchers say, but the data suggest that the availability of guns, and perhaps the American obsession with fame, may be to blame.
The mass shootings are interesting in themselves but this is tied to a larger question about the levels of violence in the United States that has intrigued social scientists for decades. For example, in graduate school I spent some time working on research regarding the number of assassinations across countries. The United States was an outlier within industrialized nations. Or, if you look at the literature on the urban riots that took place in many American cities during the 1960s, you find similar questions about how this could occur in the United States while being more rare in other developed nations. In both sets of literature, social scientists debated the role of a frontier mentality, the availability of guns, levels of political conflict and inequality, among other reasons.
On a different note, given the amount of attention these mass shootings receive in the media, it isn’t a surprise that many Americans aren’t aware that crime rates have dropped or that the vast majority of public spaces are safe.