Has the rate of random mass shootings in the United States increased? Over the past 30 years, the answer is definitely yes. It is also true that the total U.S. homicide rate has fallen by over half since 1980, and the gun homicide rate has fallen along with it. Today, Americans are safer from violent crime, including gun homicide, than they have been at any time since the mid-1960s.
Mass shootings, defined as four or more fatalities, fluctuate from year to year, but over the past 30 years there has been no long-term increase or decrease. But "random" mass shootings, such as the horrific crimes last Friday in Newtown, Conn., have increased.
Editorial page editor Paul Gigot discusses the Newtown shooting and its political aftermath.
Alan Lankford of the University of Alabama analyzed data from a recent New York Police Department study of "active shooters"—criminals who attempted to murder people in a confined area, where there are lots of people, and who chose at least some victims randomly. Counting only the incidents with at least two casualties, there were 179 such crimes between 1966 and 2010. In the 1980s, there were 18. In the 1990s, there were 54. In the 2000s, there were 87.
If you count only such crimes in which five or more victims were killed, there were six in the 1980s and 19 in the 2000s.
Why the increase? It cannot be because gun-control laws have become more lax. Before the 1968 Gun Control Act, there were almost no federal gun-control laws. The exception was the National Firearms Act of 1934, which set up an extremely severe registration and tax system for automatic weapons and has remained in force for 78 years.
Nor are magazines holding more than 10 rounds something new. They were invented decades ago and have long been standard for many handguns. Police officers carry them for the same reason that civilians do: Especially if a person is attacked by multiple assailants, there is no guarantee that a 10-round magazine will end the assault.