Mass Shootings

In the aftermath of the Newtown, CT, school massacre, there’s been a push to reapply a ban on “assault” weapons—whatever those are; not even the military has any such.  The term is purely legalist, cooked up in the back halls of Congress, and subject to change with the winds of political convenience.

One of the excuses used for this foolishness is one that Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster repeats:

We have seen a proliferation of these tragedies after the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.  We cannot allow this to continue.

Let’s look at some actual facts.  The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel published some of those just last August.  The graph below is built from their data, which cover roughly 35 years—from 1976 through 2010.

Note:   Mass shooting defined by the FBI as the shooter killing four or more people in a single incident (not including the himself), and typically in a single location.  Data compiled from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program by James Alan Fox, criminology professor at Northeastern University; US Census Bureau; Journal Sentinel research

Hmm….  Pop quiz time, and no peeking below: who can identify from this graph the period of effectivity of the “assault” weapon ban?

I didn’t think so.

The ban ran from 1994-2004.  The incident rate during that period is the same as the rates both before and after.  The number of victims per incident varies wildly—but is unchanged, in average or variability, over the same three periods.

Maybe it would be better for concerned communities to put trained, armed guards on duty in locations where there are masses of people—like schools and shopping malls, maybe.

Maybe it would be better for folks sitting in leadership positions—like, say, Mayor Foster—to think with their brains, rather than their emotions, and to consult some actual data.

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