We hear of mass shootings that occur periodically where a gunman (it is almost always a man with a gun) goes on some kind of rampage and slaughters a number of people. NPR interviewed Jodi Upton, a member of a team of reporters at USA Today that decided to find out how many mass murders had occurred since 2006, because the federal government does not keep track of such statistics. A mass murder was defined as one in which at least four people other than the killer died.
It turns out that they are far more frequent than the big news stories might suggest. Since the beginning of 2006, there have been 284 such incidents in which almost 1,400 people have died, an average of 2.5 events and 12 people per month. That is an astounding number, showing that many of these stories stay local and don’t permeate into the national consciousness. About 70% involved the use of firearms. 94% of the killers are men and they tend to use guns more than women while women are more likely to use other methods like strangulation or drowning or arson.
The reason we don’t hear about so many may be that the media tends to highlight only those in which the victims were random people, and ignores the many in which they were family members or otherwise known to the killer, which constitutes 57% of the events. But that still leaves a lot of mass random murders, about one event per month. Random killings seem more dangerous because while we may feel confident that we do not harbor homicidal people among our family and friends and acquaintances, no one feels safe from killers who can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Another really depressing statistic is that 30% of the victims are children. They are often not simply caught in the crossfire but deliberately targeted, the tragic victims of custody disputes where the killers decide that if they can’t have their children, then their estranged partners won’t get them either. It is impossible for me to fathom such thinking.