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Comparing Death Rates from Mass Public Shootings and Mass Public Violence in the US and Europe

JUNE 23, 2015 . JOHN R LOTT

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at Tuesday, June 23, 5.14 PM

1) In his address to the nation after the Charleston attack, Obama claimed: "we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Senator Harry Reid made a similar statement on June 23rd: " The United States is the only advanced country where this type of mass violence occurs. Let's do something. We can expand, for example, background checks. ... We should support not giving guns to people who are mentally ill and felons."

This claim is simply not true. Mass public shootings - defined as four or more people killed, and not in the course of committing another crime, and not involving struggles over sovereignty. The focus on excluding shootings that do not involve other crimes (e.g., gang fights or robberies) has been used from the original research by Lott and Landes to more recently the FBI) from 2009 to the Charleston massacre. The cases were complied doing a news search. The starting year was picked simply because last year we had a report that looked at Mass Public Shootings in the US starting in 2009.

Death rates from Mass Public Shootings

Death rate is per million people.

Frequency of mass public shootings Europe to US

Europe mass public shooting cases

Bombing cases just in Russia

Russia Bombing cases

Regarding worldwide terrorism rates, the US State Department has these number for 2007 to 2011. Click on figure to enlarge.

US State Department Worldwide Attacks

2) Last Friday, Obama said: " If congress had passed some common sense gun reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom. Reforms that 90% of the American people supported, we wouldn't have prevented every act of violence, or even most, we don't know if it would have prevented what would have happened in Charleston, but we might still have some more Americans with us."

- There is no evidence that 90% of Americans supported the reforms that Obama was pushing. It is true that 80% to 90% of Americans say that they support background checks on "all gun buyers" (see also here and here), but that is not the same as saying that they supported universal background checks and it is not the same thing as them saying that they supported the law that Obama wanted. When asked this question people may be thinking of guns being purchased at a store and possibly a gun show, but it isn't at all clear that they are talking about a transfer between friends (either a gift or a sale) and it is very doubtful that they are referring to transfers between family members. Surveys that specifically address the background check bill before the Senate in 2013 do not show overwhelming support. The most support that I can find for such a bill was in Washington State where initiative 594 was passed with 59% support, not 90%, and it had spending that out did the initiative's opponents by about 33-to-1.

- None of the laws that Obama has put forward would have had any impact on either Newtown or Charleston. The Charleston killer apparently did pass a background check, and, in any case, the Newtown killer obtained his gun by stealing it from his Mom.

On Monday, June 22nd, President Obama made similar comments and also added: " And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic commonsense gun safety laws that, by the way, the majority of gun owners support." This claim has the same problem that Obama's other statement has.

3) Here is another claim by Obama from last Friday: " You don't see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth."

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post has this useful discussion on an earlier similar claim by Obama.

UPDATE: Politifact has discussion on fatality rates from mass public shootings, where they rank the US as the fourth highest country. Their analysis looks at data from 2000 to 2014, but it is clear that their analysis is flawed. They have a much broader definition of these attacks where they included cases where no one was killed. Still they are missing a large number of cases in foreign countries, even when one is looking cases where 4 or more people were killed.

For example for France, they claim that from 2000 to 2014 there is only one such shooting and eight people were killed in that case. They missed at least 16 deaths in just cases where four or more people have been killed.

For Finland For Germany See also here and here.