TORONTO — Despite having only five per cent of the world’s population, the United States was host to 31 per cent of public mass shootings between 1966 and 2012.
A new study used data from the New York City Police Department’s 2012 active shooter report and the FBI’s 2014 active shooter report, along with international sources, to provide a comprehensive look at mass shootings on a global scale. Incidents where there were four or more victims were taken into account.
“The United States, Yemen, Switzerland, Finland, and Serbia are ranked as the Top 5 countries in firearms owned per capita, according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, and my study found that all five are ranked in the Top 15 countries in public mass shooters per capita,” said study author Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama.
Lankford said there was a clear connection between high gun ownership rates in a country and mass shootings.
READ MORE: Getting Out Alive: Surviving a mass shooting
“My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation’s civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters,” Lankford said. “Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings. My study provides empirical evidence of a positive association between the two.”
The study also looked at the details of the mass shootings, and found that shooters in other countries were 3.6 times less likely to use multiple weapons. The findings showed more than half of mass shooters in the U.S. used at least two weapons.
The data also showed that on average attacks in the U.S. have fewer casualties than in other countries: 6.87 victims in the U.S. versus 8.81 victims in other countries. Lankford suggested the lower average is due to U.S. law enforcement officials being better trained to deal with a mass shooting event than authorities in other countries “because so many horrific attacks have occurred here.”
Schools, factories and office buildings are also more commonly attacked in the U.S., while attacks abroad are more common in military settings such as barracks and checkpoints.
Other factors Lankford suggested could contribute to the high rates in the U.S. include pressure to achieve “the American Dream”, and mental heath issues such as depression and schizophrenia.
“Other countries certainly have their share of people who struggle with these problems, but they may be less likely to indulge in the delusions of grandeur that are common among these offenders in the U.S., and, of course, less likely to get their hands on the guns necessary for such attacks,” said Lankford.
Lankford said the study could provide insight into policy changes that might help decrease the number of mass shootings.
“The United States could likely reduce its number of school shootings, workplace shootings, and public mass shootings in other places if it reduced the number of guns in circulation.”