Mass shootings a ‘uniquely American problem’ — over 70% take place in United States

WAYNE, N.J. — The recent mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York is a grave reminder that America has a gun problem. Now, new research shows 73 percent of mass shootings around the world over the last two decades take place in the United States.

“Mass shootings are a uniquely American problem, particularly in relation to other developed countries,” comments Jason R. Silva, an assistant professor at William Paterson University, in a media release.

For this study, Silva defined mass shootings as a public incident where there are four or more deaths and victims, chosen indiscriminately by the shooter. Between 1998 to 2019, the United States reported 101 attacks and 816 deaths from mass shootings. France came in second with just eight mass shootings and 179 deaths.

Meanwhile, half of 36 developed countries have not experienced mass shootings in the past 22 years. Only five had more than two mass shooting events. In contrast, the United States had at least one shooting every year during that timeframe.

The study author looked at data from both developed and developing nations worldwide, as well as prior research pertaining to mass shootings. Silva used the data and found several patterns in the research, including:

  • 91% of shooters attacked the country they were born in
  • 99% of shooters were male
  • One-third of shooters had military experience
  • 7% of shooters had involvement in law enforcement

Who are the most likely mass shooting suspects?

Additionally, the results showed that shootings in developed countries like the United States were more likely to be carried out by those with ideological motives and those seeking 15 minutes of fame.

Among Americans, most shooters had more than one gun and the trigger for a shooting often involved changes in employment, financial problems, or relationship problems. When they do, they are more likely to attack open spaces such as factories, offices, and warehouses.

“Relationship problems present another distinct form of strain contributing to US mass shootings. This is not to say that relationship problems do not exist in other countries or that they do not result in violence. In fact, many other countries have much higher rates of intimate partner violence and homicide,” explains Dr. Silva. “However, it is uniquely American that relationship problems end in mass shootings: where individuals outside of those contributing to relationship problems were also, or instead, targeted at random.”

Dr. Silva says the findings could help the United States identify who is likely to carry out a mass shooting and, more importantly, inform policies for gun reform.

“For example, in the wake of three shootings in Finland between 2007-2009, the Finnish government issued new firearm guidelines for handguns and revolvers, which were the primary firearms during these attacks. Applicants for handgun licenses are now required to be active members of a gun club and vetted by their doctor and police,” says Dr. Silva.

One study limitation to consider is that the results come from open-source data, indicating some mass shooting incidents may not appear in the report. This impacts developing countries most as they have limited technology and non-English language news outlets.

The study is published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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