Are Mass Shootings Becoming Deadlier?

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Columbine—a 1999 tragedy so traumatic and severe that that the very word has become permanently synonymous with mass shootings—no longer ranks among America’s 10 deadliest public shootings.[1] Three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history have occurred within the last year and a half, beginning with the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. In an apparent act of loyalty to ISIS, Omar Mateen shot to death 49 people on June 12, 2016 and injured 53 others.[2][3][4] Heralded as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, TIME wrote, “The death toll makes the attack deadlier than the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, in which student Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 people to death before killing himself, and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which gunman Adam Lanza killed 27 people before killing himself.”[5]

Only 16 months later, CNN ran the headline, “The Las Vegas Attack is the Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern US History.” From his perch atop the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Stephen Paddock opened fire upon a crowd of more than 22,000 who were gathered on the Las Vegas Strip for the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.[6][7] While Paddock’s motives are still unknown, 58 victims are reported dead, and another 489 were injured.[8]

The next month, Devin Kelley executed what the Texas governor referred to as “the largest mass shooting in our state’s history”,[9] and the Washington Post called “the worst church shooting in U.S. history.”[10] Kelley entered a First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas during its Sunday morning worship service and began shooting.[11] He killed 26 people, including an unborn child and an 18-month infant, and he injured 20 others.[12] Authorities believe the motive was a domestic dispute with his mother-in-law who attended the church.[13]

The magnitude of these shootings, coupled with their proximity to one another, has provoked a general sense that mass shootings are on the rise. However, the data reveals that any increase in public mass shootings over the last few decades is statistically negligible.[14][15] Public mass shootings may not be particularly more prevalent, but they are certainly becoming deadlier.[16] In an article for Politico, Grant Duwe, author of Mass Murder in the United States: A History and research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, writes, “Before 2012, the five-year moving average never exceeded 20 victims shot (per 100 million Americans). Since then, the five-year moving average rate has been above 20 every year but one (2014).”[17]

This article is excerpted from the paper Mass Shootings and the Search for a Quick Fix.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Shapiro, Rebecca. “Mass Shootings in America are Becoming More Common – and More Deadly.” Huffington Post, November 6, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

2. Durgin, Celina. “Let’s Not Overthink the Motives of the Orlando Shooter.” National Review, June 17, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

3. Zapotosky, Matt and Mark Berman. “Orlando Gunman Who Pledged Loyalty to ISIS was ‘Homegrown’ Extremist Radicalized Online, Obama Says.” The Washington Post, June 13, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2017.

4. Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen and Deanna Pan. “US Mass Shootings, 1982-2017: Data from Mother Jones’ Investigation.” Mother Jones, n.d. Updated November 5, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

5. Shapiro, Julie and Sam Frizell. “Orlando Nightclub Attack was Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History.” TIME, June 12, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2017.

6. Criss, Doug. “The Las Vegas Attack is the Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern U.S. History.” CNN, October 2, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

7. Bui, Lynh, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Mark Berman. “At Least 59 Killed in Las Vegas Shooting Rampage, more than 500 Others Injured.” Washington Post, October 2, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.

8. Gomez, Alan and Kaila White. “Here are All the Victims of the Las Vegas Shooting.” USA Today, October 6, 2017. Updated October 8, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

9. “Governor: Church Shooting Worst in Texas History.” USA Today video, November 5, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

10. Phillips, Kristine and Sarah Bailey. “‘Evil has Invaded Sanctuary’: Texas Massacre Likely the Worst Church Shooting in U.S. History.” Washington Post, November 6, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

11. Rosenberg, Eli, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery. “Texas Church Gunman Escaped Mental Health Facility in 2012 after Threatening Military Superiors.” Washington Post, November 7, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

12. “The Lives Lost in Sutherland Springs, Tex.” Washington Post, n.d. Updated November 9, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

13. Harris, Chris. “Motive of Texas Church Shooting was ‘Domestic Situation’ and Gunman Threatened Mother-in-Law.” People, November 6, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Bump, Philip. “America’s Deadliest Shooting Incidents are Getting Much More Deadly.” Washington Post, October 2, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.

17. Duwe, Grant. “Mass Shootings are Getting Deadlier, not More Frequent.” Politico Magazine, October 4, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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