Revisiting Gun Data on Multiple-Victim Shootings

With the horrifically tragic mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado yesterday, any attempt to politicize the story for political gain should be discouraged. Even reading up on the facts of the shooting left my stomach in knots and brought tears to my eyes, so I couldn’t imagine using it to write a snarky piece criticizing my opponents.

However, because this situation has already begun the process of politicization, and public policy proposals will, no doubt, result from it, I think it important to revisit the facts surrounding gun control, particularly in relation to multiple-victim or mass shootings.

Again, this is not a piece lamenting “if only one of these victims had a gun on them” (in fact, because of the hauntingly peculiar details of this shooting, I doubt whether this statistical knowledge on the mass shootings would even apply here), but rather a collection of information that should be used in a discussion with those who propose stricter gun control policies to reduce public shootings. Just because our normal political revelries should temporarily cease doesn’t mean our assessment of knowledge should also.

(Data referenced in this article is retrievable. See Lott, J. R. (2010). More guns, less crime: Understanding crime and gun-control laws. (3 ed.). The University of Chicago Press.)

The theory of gun control is that if people don’t have access to these dangerous weapons, then gun crime can be severely decreased, if not eradicated. However, this is not how it plays out in real life. Here are some findings about gun control and mass shootings by PhD economist and gun crime expert John Lott.

Between 1977 and 1992, ten states adopted nondiscretionary concealed-handgun laws. The data collected from after the new laws were enacted show that the mean per-capita death rate from mass shootings dropped 69-percent. Lott expounds: “although the total number of deaths and injuries from mass public shootings actually rises slightly immediately after a nondiscretionary concealed-handgun law is implemented, it quickly falls after that, with the rate reaching zero five years after the law is enacted.”

Simply put, when a gunman is left to shoot, uninterrupted by a civilian with a gun on hand, more people die. Very restrictive gun control, like not allowing concealed-carry, will guarantee that no civilian has the means by which to shoot back to end such a massacre. The assailant, however, will always have means of getting his hands on a gun illegally.

More evidence of this is that since 1997, the two school shootings (out of eight total) with the least amount of people injured or killed were both stopped by citizens with guns (before police even arrived at the scene).

In one of the shootings, the assistant principal of a high school in Pearl, Miss., prevented the shooter from continuing his rampage at the nearby junior high school, where he could have killed countless more victims. The assistant principal retrieved his .45-caliber pistol from his pickup and apprehended the shooter until police arrived.

Moreover, in the study of states that enacted right-to-carry laws between 1977 and 1999, the overall occurrence of multiple-victim shootings dropped by a remarkable 67-percent. “Deaths from all these shootings plummeted by 75 percent, and injuries by 81 percent.”

In all this data, there’s a stunningly consistent trend that very much favors concealed-carry: gunmen prefer unarmed targets, and they will scope out their targets to find those most likely to be unarmed. In states that have right-to-carry laws, the very rare mass shootings tend to happen “in particular places where concealed handguns are forbidden, such as schools.” It’s all the same in a gunman’s eyes: localities where citizens are prohibited from carrying firearms are just as good of targets as gun free zones such as schools. For more on concealed-carry on campus, see my colleague Christine Rousselle’s piece here.

Back in 1999, the attacker who wounded five at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, Calif., had originally planed a more grand scale attack at more populous Jewish attractions like the Museum of Tolerance or the Skirball Cultural Center, but finding the security too “tight,” chose the less protected location of a rural community center to open fire. Unarmed targets are sitting ducks.

The bias against guns in the national media is partly to blame for the public’s ignorance on the subject. Most people think that more young children die from accidental gun accidents than drown in five-gallon water buckets or suffocate while sleeping with their parents each year, even though the opposite is true. Many of the stories of gun deaths that you hear are the most tragic stories like the shootings in Aurora or at Columbine. Rarely, if ever, are you likely to hear the stories of a person brandishing their gun to save their life, with no death or serious injury resulting. The plain fact is: guns save lives. Use these facts to take back the narrative.

There has yet to be an instance where the adoption of right-to-carry laws has increased the rate or severity of mass shootings. Quite the opposite is true. Criminals will always participate in illegal behavior; disarming law-abiding citizens is a nonsensical solution to reducing these terrible crimes.

My heart aches for the deaths in Aurora, and I’m angered at the evil that these murderers embrace, but I will not allow my emotions to cloud my judgment and I will not support policies that will lead to more needless deaths.

Keith Fierro | Cal State Fullerton | @KJFierro

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21 Responses

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  1. Franklin Jones
    Aug 07, 2012 - 02:31 PM

    Interesting that the author says a ton of things in this piece that are utterly unsubstantiated. “Most people think that more young children die from accidental gun accidents than drown in five-gallon water buckets or suffocate while sleeping with their parents each year, even though the opposite is true.” Really? Prove it.

    • Deron
      Aug 24, 2012 - 08:36 PM

      @Franklin: Feel free to visit and you can run a report youself. Specifically, see to generate a list of the top ten leading causes of death for any range of years and broken down by age group (and other factors such as state, gender, race, etc.).
      In the returned results, look for “unintentional injury” in the cause of death column and click on that cell. It will produce a (drilldown) report and graph that lists the causes of these accidental deaths.

      I just ran a query for all persons covering the entire US under age 1,8 broken into two groups, under age 1 and age 1 to 17, for statistics from 1999 to 2009 (latest year available).

      Here are the results:

      Age Group: <1
      Cause of Death Deaths Percent
      Suffocation 8107 69.55216198
      MV Traffic 1473 12.63726836
      Drowning 652 5.593685655
      Fire/burn 383 3.285861359
      Unspecified 212 1.818805765
      Natural/ Environment 194 1.664378861
      Fall 191 1.638641043
      Poisoning 188 1.612903226
      Other Spec., clsfbl 102 0.875085793
      Struck by or Against 62 0.531914894
      Pedestrian, Other 35 0.300274537
      Other Land Transport 24 0.205902539
      Other Transport 18 0.154426905
      Firearm 6 0.051475635
      Cut/pierce 3 0.025737817
      Other Spec., NEC 3 0.025737817
      Machinery 2 0.017158545
      Pedal cyclist, Other 1 0.008579272

      Age Group: 1 – 17

      Cause of Death Deaths Percent
      MV Traffic 44403 56.84020533
      Drowning 10101 12.93027304
      Fire/burn 5353 6.852366262
      Suffocation 3088 3.952943586
      Poisoning 2960 3.789091002
      Other Land Transport 2332 2.985189263
      Pedestrian, Other 2165 2.771412845
      Firearm 1271 1.627004954
      Fall 1266 1.620604462
      Other Transport 882 1.129046711
      Natural/ Environment 867 1.109845236
      Struck by or Against 844 1.080402975
      Unspecified 822 1.052240812
      Other Spec., clsfbl 712 0.911429998
      Other Spec., NEC 351 0.449314507
      Pedal cyclist, Other 324 0.414751853
      Machinery 313 0.400670772
      Cut/pierce 65 0.08320639

      • Jon
        Sep 29, 2012 - 06:37 AM

        fact don’t matter to leftists

  2. Ken Pail
    Jul 24, 2012 - 02:25 AM

    I believe that the gun control lobby is responsible for the deaths of the people in the Colorado shootings. Their actions and lies have led to many businesses such as the theater where the shooting took place to ban the carrying of fire arms into their business leaving their customers open to assult.

    • Chelle
      Jul 25, 2012 - 01:18 AM

      1) Its legal for people in Colorado to carry concealed weapons.
      2) Its legal for private establishments to make their own rules for their establishments.
      3) Are you really suggesting that in a dark theater where people are panicing, running everyone and reported that they didn’t know where the gun man was that another person shooting at him through the mass of panicked people would of helped things?
      4) Guns didn’t kill people, but neither did James Holmes? It’s gun control supporters who are responsible? Not James Holmes, the guy carrying the gun?

  3. Matthew
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:53 PM

    No no NO! Don’t you understand it is about the guns? I mean, everyday I hear about violent crimes being committed by firearms. Crime statistics say guns kill over thousands every year. So of course we should ban guns! In fact, I thi…

    Wait. What? Guns are inanimate objects that are incapable of doing anything without a human being picking it up and using it? More people are killed in traffic accidents and yet nobody is demanding we ban cars?

    Oh. That’s very different.

    Never mind.

  4. elaine lively
    Jul 21, 2012 - 09:30 PM

    you write extremely elequently,Keith…but i feel there is a ploliferation of guns due to the amendment in the constitution,there is no other country in the world where so many lose their lives than the U,S.A,because of”The right to bear arms”!!!!

    • Matthew
      Jul 22, 2012 - 12:35 AM

      Elaine, the problem with this argument is that it ignores common sense and personal responsibility. Look at what I wrote below. Those are facts.

      Further, take a look at what is going on in our nation’s capital. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a Marxist dictator wanna be, knowingly, willingly and repeatedly ignoring the Constitution. What do we do when he decides he wants to take our guns from us? And why would he want to? Because he knows an unarmed populace is a controllable populace, as the people of Nazi Germany and the USSR found out.

      I will not allow Barack Obama or anyone on the political left to take away my right to keep and bear arms. Neither should you.

    • Chase
      Jul 23, 2012 - 05:14 PM

      Isn’t it the case that countries with strict gun laws have a dramatic increase in stabbing deaths?

    • Tess
      Aug 11, 2012 - 09:18 PM

      Elaine … so, according to you, citizenry having guns is the cause of rampant crime. FACT: In Switzerland, every household must have, BY LAW, a fully automatic machine gun and ammunition. Since 1982, Kennesaw, Georgia has REQUIRED every homeowner to maintain a firearm. Want to guess where REALLY low crime rates are? You need a better fact-checker for your opinions.

  5. Sean L
    Jul 21, 2012 - 01:01 PM

    It’s self-policing, really. If you walk into an building where anywhere from 10-40% of the people could be carrying concealed firearms, you’re less likely to commit a crime. And stopping people from buying guns won’t stop murders. Our prison system and this killer’s own apartment prove that people can be very creative when they want to kill somebody.

    The frequency of national headline massacres has increased since Columbine. Something needs to change.



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