While the news about mass shootings is always heartbreaking, it is easy to lose sight of just how uncommon these horrific atrocities are in the United States.
Recently, gun statistics expert John Lott Jr. explained that mass shootings in the U.S. must be corrected for its population size before one can do an international comparison of their frequency. When such basic statistical calculations are made, the U.S. drops from the nation with the ‘most mass shootings in the world’ to the twelfth highest.
Lest anyone think that Lott’s research is “discredited,” a popular epithet currently being used to cast aside inconvenient facts, his research largely tracks with statistics taken from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which in 2014 ranked the U.S. sixth in the world in mass shooting frequency.
Lott’s research further shows that the U.S. is eleventh in the world in terms of death rate from mass shootings per year. (Bear in mind European nations tend to be heavily regulated for private firearms ownership.)
Although it is a socially agreeable thing to say that ‘even one tragedy is too many,’ we should always bear in mind the scale or frequency of the social phenomenon under investigation, especially when we are considering sweeping public policies in response. Public policies always involve trade-offs, whether in terms of efficiency, cost, or individual rights.
When we conduct a basic calculation of the frequency of mass shooters in the United States, the results are striking. There are about 300 million firearms in the U.S., 75 million gun owners, and about 3-5 deadly mass shooters each year. That means 0.000006% of gun owners each year are mass shooters.
In addition, FBI Crime Statistics show that all rifles combined — “assault rifles,” hunting rifles, all rifles — account for 250 firearms homicides per year. That is fewer than 2% of all homicides each year. By comparison, handguns account for nine times as many murders as all other firearms combined.
Let’s also consider that more than twice as many people are murdered by people with their hands and feet than by rifles or shotguns each year, according to FBI Crime Statistics. Blunt objects kill far more than either, as well. Knives kill over six times as many people as either rifles or shotguns. Yet, no one is proposing a ban on knives.
So, how rare are mass shootings in the United States? As a report by Time magazine showed, based on Mother Jones research, 722 people were killed and 1,177 people were killed in mass shootings between 1982 up to and including 2017.
These data are based on 91 mass shooting incidents over the courts of 35 years, an average of 2.53 incidents per year, and are defined as a public shooting incident where “at least three people were killed, not including the gunman.”
If we use death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control for the years 1999-2014, we find several uncommon causes of death that are more frequent than deaths from mass shootings. (Although several are more frequent than all 35 years of mass shootings combined, the total for the same 15 years of CDC statistics are 345 deaths from mass shootings.)
Based on CDC statistics, the following causes of death are more frequent than mass shootings.
“Fall involving a bed”: 10,386 deaths.
One is approximately 30 times more likely to die falling out of bed than from a mass shooting.
“Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed”: 10,206.
One is approximately 29 times more likely to die suffocating in bed than from a mass shooting.
“Contact with agricultural machinery”: 4,183 deaths.
One is approximately twelve times more likely to die from farm machinery than from a mass shooting.
“Constipation”: 2,167 deaths.
One is approximately six times more likely to die from constipation than from a mass shooting.
“Caught, crushed, jammed or pinched in or between objects”: 1,842 deaths.
One is approximately five times more likely to die from being stuck or crushed to death than from a mass shooting.
“Fall from tree”: 1,413 deaths.
One is approximately four times more likely to die falling from a tree than in a mass shooting.
“Fall involving ice-skates, skis, roller-skates or skateboards”: 1,139 deaths.
One is approximately three times as likely to die from ice skating or skateboarding than from a mass shooting.
“Contact with powered lawnmower”: 951 deaths.
One is roughly three times more likely to die from lawnmowers than from a mass shooting.
This isn’t to make light of the scourge of mass shootings, a deadly scourge that Americans by all means should take seriously and should seek effective ways to prevent.
But it is helpful to know how uncommon mass shootings tend to be, even as the U.S. media make up statistics to make them appear more common than they actually are. it is also productive to know where mass shootings tend to take place: Gun-free zones.
Instead of seeking to ban inanimate objects, we should be looking at violent and mentally ill individuals who are at risk of committing such heinous acts, instead of limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens nationwide, who are extremely unlikely to carry out such atrocities.
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