HOW A BOTCHED STUDY MISLED THE WORLD ABOUT THE U.S. SHARE OF MASS PUBLIC SHOOTINGS
By Kevin Ryan
In 2015, President Obama made a claim following a mass shooting that has since become a widely accepted narrative: “I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries… We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”
The White House followed up the assertion by pointing to a then-unpublished paper by criminologist Adam Lankford claiming that the United States had 31% of public mass shooters between 1966 and 2012, despite having less than 5% of the world population. It concluded that our high rate of firearm ownership was to blame.
The press ate it up. “Americans make up about 4.4% of the global population but own 42% of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31% of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.” reported the New York Times. The Washington Post: “American exceptionalism and the ‘exceptionally American’ problem of mass shootings”. Time magazine: “Why the US has 31% of the World’s Mass Shootings”. CNN: “Why the US has the most mass shootings”. The Los Angeles Times - “Why the U.S. is No. 1—in mass shootings”. Similar stories were published in hundreds of outlets around the world.
And they’re all wrong.
New research indicates that, not only does America not have the most mass shootings, we actually have far fewer as a percent of our population than the rest of the world. The study finds that, despite having 4.6% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s firearms, just 2.88% of the world’s mass shootings take place here.
Researchers used the same criteria that the original paper purported to use: a mass shooting which killed four or more victims in public places such as malls, schools, places of worship, businesses, government buildings, etc., motivated by hate or terror or crime etc. They excluded shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence or were the government sponsored (ie. war).
Unlike the original paper, which only used an FBI database and a search of english language websites, the new research used multiple crime databases, Nexis, and media searches for mass shootings, and hired people who spoke Chinese, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and other languages to scour international sources.
Their findings obliterate the narrative that mass shootings are a uniquely American problem.
Mass shootings between 1998 to 2012:
• United States: 43
• The rest of the world: 1,448
In other words, just 2.9% of mass shootings happen in America. 97.1% of them happen elsewhere.
Some of the countries that have higher rates of mass shootings than America include Finland, Norway, Russia, Israel, Yugoslavia, and Slovakia. 57 in all. 61 countries have more killed per capita in mass shootings than the U.S. And since the paper only looked at up to 2012, it doesn’t include the more recent terror related mass shootings that would likely put France and other European countries on the list.
As for why the original paper that claimed 31% of mass shootings happened in the U.S. was so off isn’t known, because, incredibly, its author refuses to share his data with researchers or the media.
And yet it’s been the basis of so much uncritical media coverage, and continues to be the widely cited to this day.
The new study thoroughly debunks its methods, here: https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=269126002097094117099097073097081068122032049015054052117086127094066078121116113101033022034012040098112080068108119121118115111029057079021093027067064066100027053073116123005071023070021087026115070031105064116090004118077022121116117125118103&EXT=pdf