After each mass shooting, the media immediately jump to talk about gun control. That’s bizarre, given that mass shootings as a percentage of overall gun homicide is incredibly low: despite the media’s lies about mass shootings every day, they’re not happening every day. As liberal Mark Follman of Mother Jones wrote in The New York Times, there is no one standard for a mass shooting; Mother Jones properly uses an incident in which four or more people were killed in public attacks, excluding gang attacks, robbery, or domestic violence. Follman came up with four mass shootings in 2015, not the 355th from January to December of that year touted by the media. In reality, by their count, there were 46 deaths in mass shootings in 2015, the last year for which federal gun homicide statistics are available; that year there were 12,979 gun-related homicides overall in the United States. That means that mass shooting deaths totaled some 0.3% of all gun homicides in the United States.
Yet the media want to talk not about general gun homicide, but about mass shootings. Here are the reasons why.
1. Mass Shootings Cannot Be Confined By Location. The vast bulk of gun homicides in the United States take place in major cities that trend blue. As Harry Moroz of Next American City calculated in 2012, “Based on the CDC data, almost 60% of US firearm homicides occur in the 62 cities of the country’s 50 largest metros.” Gun control is quite common in those areas.
2. The Type Of Gun In Mass Shootings Differs Radically From Gun Homicides Overall. According to FBI statistics, the vast majority of gun-related homicides involve handguns, not long guns (in 2012, for example, only 322 people were killed with a rifle of any sort, as opposed to thousands by handgun). But the Left doesn’t want to openly talk about banning handguns, since they are significantly more common and more popular than long guns. The “assault weapons ban” sounds more plausible in the context of mass shootings than in the context of overall American gun homicide.
3. The Evidence For Gun Control Is Strongest On Mass Shootings. There is little correlative evidence between gun homicide and gun ownership. The states in America with high gun ownership rates evidence no elevated level of gun homicide compared with those with lower rates of gun ownership.
But the evidence of mass shootings and gun availability is better – largely because the sample sizes are so small. Australia’s gun ban was followed by an elimination of mass shootings; the UK has seen some 3 mass shootings since 1980 after its gun ban. Correlation rarely equals causation, but if it does, this is virtually the only evidence for the efficacy of a gun ban, considering that Australia and the United States saw similar declines in gun homicide since 1996 despite increase in number of guns owned per American and radical decrease per Australian.
4. The Bulk Of Gun-Related Deaths In America Are Suicides. While the media focus incessantly on gun homicide, which has been dropping steadily for years (at least until the advent of the Ferguson effect), the bulk of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides. The media routinely obscure this fact, because it might remind people that guns don’t shoot people all by themselves.
5. Mass Shootings Are Often Perpetrated By The Mentally Ill. This means that we tend to blame society rather than individuals. When criminals commit crimes, we tend to blame them for their criminality; when the mentally ill commit horrific acts of violence, it’s easier to blame society more broadly, which tends to call for public policy change.
Focusing on mass shootings makes some sense because they are the most visible shootings; because they don’t specifically create individual moral culpability thanks to mental illness concerns; because their small sample size allows politicians to attribute any sort of decline to changes in public policy. But it’s a mistake to make policy for precisely those reasons.