While it seems like violence is rampant, according to the LA Times, this is par for the course.
Although some indications suggest the American public has reached a breaking point after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — yet another tragic mass shooting in a particularly tragic year — such attacks have long been a part of American history, and some experts say they are happening not much more often than usual.
“There is one not-so-tiny flaw in all of these theories for the increase in mass shootings,” James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, wrote for Boston.com in August. “And that is that mass shootings have not increased in number or in overall body count, at least not over the past several decades.”
Here are some stats.
Fox cited a particularly broad set of FBI and police data that counted shootings between 1980 and 2010 in which four or more people were killed: The average pace was about 20 mass murders per year, with a death toll of about 100. Casualty counts fluctuated wildly — some years would have almost 125 dead, but then be followed by a year with fewer than 50 mass shooting fatalities. Far steadier was the number of attacks, which usually stayed at fewer than 25 per year.
This year has been especially bloody, though. According to a running tally by Mother Jones magazine, whose counts slightly differ — the magazine excluded robberies and gang violence, to some criticism, and limited the tally to public attacks — 2012 has been the deadliest year for mass shootings since 1982 by far, with almost 80 dead.
The overall number of casualties, when injuries are included, made 2012 almost twice as bloody as the next-worst years: 1999 and 2007, when massacres at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., respectively, inflated the numbers.
So, why does it feel like violence is rampant?
But experts say it’s the spectacular nature of the attacks that give public mass shootings such impact beyond the affected communities, with intense media coverage lending extra piquance: five or six or even seven attacks in one year may not be statistically significant, but they’re emotionally resonant.
“What we’ve seen after Aurora and what we’ve seen after Newtown is kind of the typical response that we’ve seen over the last 50 years following high-profile mass public shootings,” said Grant Duwe, a criminologist for the Minnesota Department of Corrections who’s written a book on the history of mass murders since 1900.
The graph is particularly interesting:
It’s a fascinating read.