- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mass public shootings have become more frequent and more deadly in recent years, the Congressional Research Service concluded in a report that could reignite the Capitol Hill debate over stiffer controls on firearms.

Deaths and wounds are up, reaching an average of more than seven victims killed and more than six wounded in shootings from 2010 through 2013. That is up from an average of about six deaths and five wounded per incident in the 1980s, the CRS said in the report, released late last week.

It also shows the frequency has increased to 74 days between incidents this decade, compared with 282 days between killings in the 1970s.

“These decadelong averages suggest that the prevalence, if not the deadliness, of ‘mass public shootings’ increased in the 1970s and 1980s, and continued to increase, but not as steeply, during the 1990s, 2000s and first four years of the 2010s,” said the report authors, William J. Krouse and Daniel J. Richardson.

Mass public attacks are back in the news after high-profile shooting sprees this year in Charleston, South Carolina, where a historically black church was the target, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where military facilities came under fire.

The Congressional Research Service said those were part of a “rash of shootings” that have captured the public’s attention and are widely reported because of the seeming randomness of the attacks and the idea that it could happen to anyone.

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The investigators sorted through the data to see whether there was in fact a trend toward more, and deadlier, incidents. The researchers broke down the data by decade, and concluded that things are getting worse — though the rise isn’t as bad as it was several decades ago.

They defined a mass public shooting as when four or more people are killed in a single incident involving guns in a public place, such as a workplace or a school. It does not include family-related mass shootings or crime-related mass shootings.

John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, disputed the statistical significance of the data, questioning whether it was possible to draw conclusions about the frequency and lethality of shootings over time.

“If [the report] included the data for 2014, it would’ve made it even less likely to find a relationship,” Mr. Lott said. “Last year was a very quiet year. [If] you put a quiet year at the end, it really pulls down the trend, and it would’ve made it so you would’ve clearly gotten a pretty flat relationship from 1999 on.”

But Mike McLively, an attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the trend lines are clear.

“When there’s, on average, 21 mass shootings every year, whether statistically significant or not, that’s very significant in terms of lives lost and for us as a society,” Mr. McLively said. “We can all agree that’s extremely significant that it’s happening with such frequency.”

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The worst mass public murders — those with victims in the double digits, such as the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which resulted in 26 dead — have happened only 13 times since 1966.

But seven of those 13 ultradeadly shootings happened between 2007 and 2013, while the other six were spread over the previous four decades.

Domestic violence contributed to about a fifth of mass public shootings and almost all of the family-related mass shootings, the researchers concluded.

“Criminologists contend strongly that most mass murderers who kill with firearms carefully plan their attacks well in advance, know at least some of their victims and often select their victims methodically,” Mr. Krouse and Mr. Richardson wrote in the report.

The researchers also found that most mass murderers suffered from some mental instability, though they usually weren’t flagged by mental health specialists or law enforcement. And military-style rifles were used in 18 of the 66 mass public shootings in the most recent 15-year period the researchers studied.

Congress could consider advising federal agencies like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to improve gun-related mass murder data collection, the report suggested.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, introduced legislation Monday to this effect, encouraging states to contribute information on felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to the federal background check system.

President Obama and congressional Democrats have repeatedly tried to restrict gun sales and create stronger background checks for gun purchases in the wake of major shooting incidents.

One such recent proposal was to prevent Social Security beneficiaries lacking the mental capacity to manage their own affairs from owning guns, a plan Republicans have lambasted for what they see as an inaccurate connection between financial competence and gun safety.

Mr. Obama said it was “distressing” he has been unable to push stronger gun control laws during his tenure and intends to keep working on it for the remaining 18 months of his presidency.

“The United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient commonsense gun safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killing,” Mr. Obama told the BBC last month.

Mr. Lott’s Crime Prevention Research Center published a study in July indicating that murder rates have fallen as the number of concealed carry handgun permits has skyrocketed.

The number of permits issued is increasing every year — over 1.7 million new permits were issued in 2014, a 15.4 percent increase over 2013, the largest such single-year jump ever, according to the report.

Gun rights advocates say that such reports refute the liberal argument that more guns leads to more violence.

“It puts the lie to the myth promulgated by anti-gun individuals that somehow more law-abiding citizens carrying guns will lead to more crime. In fact, quite the opposite is the case,” said Larry Keene, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “More law-abiding citizens own firearms for self-protection, and crime continues to decline.”

Gun control advocates denounced the report, pointing to other studies showing how concealed handguns are more frequently used for non-self-defense killings.

“Concealed carry killers are a threat to public safety. The evidence is clear that, all too often, private citizens use their concealed handguns to take lives, not to save them,” a statement from the Violence Policy Center’s Concealed Carry Killers page reads.

⦁ Kellan Howell contributed to this report.

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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