El Paso, Dayton, Odessa. Understanding Mass Shooting Trends In America

By Luis Melgar, Guns & America

At a press conference Sunday in Odessa, Texas, FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said that the nation is now averaging an active shooter incident “every other week,” a broad term used by the FBI to describe someone “attempting to kill people in a populated area.

Not all of these incidents escalate to the level of a mass shooting.

The shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, on Aug. 31, was the sixth mass shooting in 2019 according to an analysis by Guns & America. While there’s no universally accepted definition of what qualifies as a mass shooting, for this analysis we used a data set compiled by Mother Jones, and with it, their definition.

For their data set, Mother Jones collects information on indiscriminate killings in public spaces, excluding “shootings stemming from more conventionally motivated crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.”

Initially following FBI standards, Mother Jones only included cases were four or more people were killed. But in 2013, the federal government’s definition of “mass killing” changed and Mother Jones started to include cases with at least three people were killed.

To maintain consistency in the analysis, for this story Guns & America only included those cases with four or more people killed. 

The Washington Post has a tool that lets you explore what the total number of mass shootings in 2015 would be, depending on how many are injured and killed. You can find it here.

Understanding The Bigger Trends

Odessa was the second major mass shooting in Texas in a month, following the shooting Aug. 3 in El Paso that left 22 dead and many more injured.

It can be hard to put into context what each incident of violence means for the greater trends in a community, region or country. Nationally, 60% of gun deaths are suicides, while a black person is more than 6 times more likely to be the victim of a gun homicide than a white person.

And while mass shootings are still very rare, accounting for only a small share of annual gun violence in the United States, since 2015 there have been at least four mass shootings each year with four or more people killed.

Even the most conservative analysis, excluding those shooting with three killed people from the data, shows a consistent increase in the total number of mass shootings over the last few years.

Since 1982, there have been 11 years in which four or more mass shootings have occurred. All but two of those have been since 2007. (Luis Melgar / Guns & America)

In 2019 so far, there have already been six mass shootings that fit this definition.

In 2018, there were eight, the most of any year since 1982.

Looking back over the last nearly 40 years, there have been 11 years in which four or more mass shootings have occurred: 1993, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, All but two of those have been since 2007.

In total, from 1982 to the present there were 97 mass shootings with four or more casualties according to Mother Jones’ data.

The Frequency Of Mass Shootings

Between 1982 and 1989, the average number of days between two mass shootings was 365 — a full year.

In the 10-year period between 2000 and 2009, roughly 20 years later, it was down to 182 days between mass shootings, or just over six months.

In the last decade, from 2010 to 2018, the number of days between two mass shootings is down to 82 days, just shy of three months.

From 2010 to 2018, the number of days between two mass shootings is down to 82 days, just shy of three months. (Luis Melgar / Guns & America)

And it is worth noting, according to Guns & America’s analysis, August 2019 is the first month since 1982 with more than two mass shootings with at least for people killed.

Mass Shootings Are Becoming More Deadly

Mass shootings are not only more frequent but are becoming more deadly.

Over the last three years, each year more than 50 people have died in mass shooting incidents.

And as of Sept. 1, 2019, 60 people have been killed in mass shootings.

According to Mother Jones’ data set, since 1982, only 2007 and 2012 had more than 50 people killed.

Mass shootings in the United States are more frequent and more deadly in recent years. The shaded area shows years where there were more than 50 people killed by mass shootings and more than four mass shootings. (Luis Melgar / Guns & America)

The number of people injured has also been trending up since 2016.

2017 holds the record for the highest total injured in mass shooting incidents. The shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, injured over 400 people from gunfire, and many more when people tried to get to safety. In addition, 58 people were killed, making it the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

As of Sept. 1, 2019, more than 80 people were injured this year in mass shootings according to Mother Jones’ data.


When it comes to where mass shootings have most often taken place in recent history, Guns & America’s analysis shows it’s often, but not exclusively, tied to where the most people live.

Since 1982, California has had the most mass shootings — 16 — with four or more people killed. Florida has had 11 and Texas has had 10. All three also make up the top three most populous states in the country according to most recent estimates.

Mass Shootings By State
StateNumber Of Mass ShootingsPopulation(1)
New York419,542,209

But only population doesn’t seem to explain completely the amount of mass shootings in an area.

While New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois have more people, Washington state has had more mass shootings in the last 38 years.


The data used for this analysis was collected by the magazine Mother Jones.

When they created this data set in 2012, the reporters gathered data about cases where four or more people were killed, following the standards used at the time by federal agencies.

The database — available online — includes indiscriminate killings in public spaces, excluding “shootings stemming from more conventionally motivated crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.”

But in 2013, the baseline defining the number of victims in a mass shooting changed from four to three, so the magazine started to include cases where at least three people were killed. You can read more about the database here.

To keep the consistency of the analysis, Guns & America excluded all cases since 2013 with three people killed, so all the cases in the data had at least four dead people.

That means that according to the the new baseline established in 2013, the number of recent cases defined as mass shooting is higher according to Mother Jones’ data set on their site. But in order to compare both periods of time (before 2013 and after), it’s necessary to have a unique definition.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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