The country’s eyes are trained on high-profile massacres in Texas and Buffalo, but most mass shootings bear little resemblance to those.
Of 267 incidents this year classified as mass shootings by the Gun Violence Archive, nearly all can be tied to gang beefs, neighborhood arguments, robberies or domestic incidents that spiraled out of control.
Indiscriminate slaughter by a lone gunman blasting away at a store, school or some other public place is rare, according to a Washington Times analysis of the archive’s data, accounting for less than 4% of the total.
The lower-profile shootings involve significant carnage, and all have one common thread: a firearm was used.
Beyond that, the shootings look very different.
Many, particularly those on the streets or that stem from gang issues, involve multiple shooters spraying bullets. Domestic incidents can turn into mass incidents based on chance, such as who happened to be home when the shooter came calling.
That’s a far cry from the deranged lone wolf maniacs who blasted away at elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas, and targeted a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
The myriad causes complicate the search for solutions.
“The majority of people in America get their information from the news, but the news only really pays attention to these extreme outlier attacks,” said Joel Capellan, a criminology professor at Rowan University who has studied mass shootings. “They are deadly and horrible, but they are not very common. But it is what we see in the news, and that creates the perception that this is the biggest problem.
“The left and the right have been consistently getting this wrong for decades because the narrative goes beyond guns and mental health,” Mr. Capellan said. “There is no one solution to mass shootings because it is a multidimensional problem. You need to focus on each specific type of mass shooting to get the desired effect.”
Lone wolf gunmen
The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization that catalogs instances of firearms violence in the U.S., defines mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the shooter or shooters.
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The Times pored over the 267 mass shootings recorded this year from Jan. 1 to June 15 and matched them against police and media reports to determine motives and circumstances.
Roughly 60% were heat-of-the-moment altercations, gang-related shootings or both. Another 10% were domestic incidents in which relatives were victimized, and 27% were a mix of attacks on specific victims, robberies gone awry, or cases in which a motive couldn’t be gleaned.
That left only a little more than 3% of the shootings that could be classified as indiscriminate rampages by deranged lone wolves.
The 267 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year lag slightly behind the 278 incidents through June 15, 2021. Last year was the worst on record since the Gun Violence Archive began tracking mass shootings in 2014. The archive recorded a total of 692 mass shootings in 2021.
In 2020, the U.S. had 610 mass shootings, up from 417 in 2019, according to the archive.
So far this year, 303 people have been killed and 1,150 have been injured in mass shootings, according to the archive’s data.
Out of this year’s total, arguments or gang violence accounted for 174 deaths (57%) and 869 injuries (75.5%). Lone wolf attacks resulted in 45 deaths (15%) and 52 injuries (4.5%), according to The Times’ analysis.
The recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas reignited the long-simmering debate over access to firearms in the U.S.
Gun control advocacy groups note that the U.S. is the only country in the world that has more guns than people, with 120.5 firearms per person, according to data from Small Arms Survey, a gun research organization.
“This needs to be the moment when our nation draws the line, and when our lawmakers start doing their job and pass common-sense laws to keep us safe,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement after the Uvalde shooting.
Second Amendment activists say the spate of mass shootings is an outgrowth of the nation’s overall surge in violent crime. Homicides in major U.S. cities increased 5% last year compared with 2020 and 44% compared with 2019, according to data from the Council on Criminal Justice.
Mark Oliva, public relations director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry, said politicians lack the will to enforce gun laws to keep criminals off the streets.
“District attorneys have the laws to go after gang members and put them in jail, but what we are seeing in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco are district attorneys who are soft on crime and turning out criminals back on the streets to commit more crimes,” he told The Times.
The organizations have also called for expanding mental health resources to prevent mass shootings.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are trying to find solutions that can appease both sides.
In Democrat-led states, the answer to mass shootings of all stripes comes back to guns.
The Rhode Island legislature this week passed a ban on high-capacity magazines, which hold more than 10 rounds. State Sen. Cynthia Coyne, a Democrat, said the measure will crack down on lone wolf attacks and gang activity.
“High-capacity magazines have no legitimate purpose for hunting or self-defense,” Ms. Coyne said. “They enable shooters to unleash torrents of bullets and inflict maximum harm in mere seconds, making them a tool of the trade for mass shootings, drug trafficking and gang violence.”
New York last week enacted a slew of state laws restricting access to weapons used in mass killings. People younger than 21 can no longer buy semi-automatic rifles such as an AR-15, which was used in Buffalo and Uvalde and is the most popular style of rifle sold in the U.S.
Among the legislation was a measure aimed at preventing gun crimes associated with gang violence by making it easier for law enforcement to match firearms with an expended cartridge through microstamping technology.
Street arguments spill over
Before Uvalde, the largest mass shooting this year was at a car show in Dumas, Arkansas, where a gang-related argument began with punches and ended with bullets. One bystander was killed and 27 people, including six children, were injured.
In April, a shootout among rival gang members left six dead and 12 wounded outside bars and clubs in downtown Sacramento, California. Authorities say more than 100 shots were fired.
Just days after the Uvalde school shooting, three bystanders were killed and 11 others were injured in a mass shooting along Philadelphia’s popular South Street entertainment district. Police said the shooting was sparked by a fight among three men who fired at one another. Despite not knowing the three men, two others opened fire in response to the chaos.
Arguments and retaliation motivated roughly 58% of the past 100 shootings in Philadelphia, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department.
Gun rights advocates say they see a common thread.
“The other side doesn’t want to acknowledge that these crimes are happening in Democratic-controlled cities, where you have demonization of police, defunding the police, and judges that let people out with no bail, even for a gun crime,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. “They don’t want to talk about any of that. They only want to demonize guns and gun owners.”