Sunday, December 6, 2015

Is the U.S. really an outlier in mass shootings?

In his June 18, 2015, remarks from the White House, Obama said, "Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it." ...

For a look at the statistics, we checked with two researchers, Jaclyn Schildkraut of the State University of New York in Oswego and H. Jaymi Elsass of Texas State University. They have been collecting and analyzing mass-shooting incidents in 11 countries, covering the period from 2000 to 2014. ...

Schildkraut and Elsass shared the summary information from their database with PolitiFact. Here’s their table:

The chart does show that the United States has more mass shootings -- and more people cumulatively killed or injured -- than the other 10 nations combined, partly because it has a much bigger population than all but China.

Still, using this data, it’s easy to dispense with the first claim Obama made -- that "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries." ... Clearly it does happen elsewhere, and not in trivial numbers. Seven of the countries saw double-digit numbers of people killed in mass shootings during that period.

By contrast, the second part of Obama’s claim -- that "it doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency" -- isn’t entirely off-base.

We compared mass shooting incidents across countries [by calculating] the number of victims per capita -- that is, adjusted for the country’s total population size.

Calculating it this way shows the United States in the upper half of the list of 11 countries, ranking higher than Australia, Canada, China, England, France, Germany and Mexico.

Still, the U.S. doesn’t rank No. 1. At 0.15 mass shooting fatalities per 100,000 people, the U.S. had a lower rate than Norway (1.3 per 100,000), Finland (0.34 per 100,000) and Switzerland (1.7 per 100,000).

We’ll note that all of these countries had one or two particularly big attacks and have relatively small populations, which have pushed up their per-capita rates. ...

Elsass warned PolitiFact of a few caveats about the data. While they believe their database "to be among the most exhaustive compilations available," Elsass noted that it may not include every instance of mass shootings. It also doesn’t include every example of mass killings -- just those committed by firearms, even though mass stabbings are not uncommon in such places as China. Finally, their database doesn’t include acts generally considered to be terrorism, such as the attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"If these were included, we are likely to see something much different statistically as there have been a number of very high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe, some including the use of firearms, that are excluded from the current analysis," she said. But in all likelihood, this would only make the case against Obama’s claim stronger.
--Kelly Herring and Louis Jacobson, PolitiFact, on mass shootings everywhere