Despite Drop in 2020, Mass Shootings Are Increasing in Frequency and Lethality

Amid rising gun violence across the United States, a new policy brief from the Rockefeller Institute’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium finds that mass shootings have continued to increase in frequency and lethality over the past 55 years. The brief, which updates the Consortium’s inaugural report on mass shootings from May 2018, compares data from the past four years (2017-2020) to a previous period of analysis (1966-2016), identifies shifts in mass shootings, and details broader concerns for policymakers and practitioners.
The first half of 2021 saw multiple high-profile mass shootings across the country following a sharp decline in mass shootings in 2020 when many individuals were forced inside and out of public spaces by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the nation recovers from the pandemic and turns its attention to the pressing gun violence emergency, this analysis of mass shootings illustrates the trends of increased annual victimization, deaths, and injuries.
Eight of the 25 most lethal mass shootings in modern history occurred during the last four years (2017-2020), according to the brief by Consortium member Jaclyn Schildkraut. The same four-year period accounts for 22 percent of mass shooting fatalities and 30 percent of all victims (both injured and killed) since 1966, despite the decrease in mass shootings in 2020.
“This latest brief on mass shootings builds upon the Consortium’s first report in 2018, and the topic has only become more important to policymakers looking for solutions to drive down violence within their communities, schools, and workplaces,” said Laura Schultz, executive director of research at the Rockefeller Institute. “This information sets the context and better defines the problem using data-driven insights to help decision-makers combat the epidemic of gun violence.”
During the entire 55-year period of analysis (1966-2020), a total of 402 mass shootings occurred in the United States, including 63 between 2017 and 2020. Altogether, these 402 shootings resulted in 1,449 deaths and a total of 3,590 victims. The brief also finds several trends in mass public shootings over the past fifty-five years, including:
  • Perpetrators’ workplaces and schools remain the most frequent locations where mass shootings occur with 29 percent and 25 percent of mass shootings taking place in those locations, respectively.
  • Handguns are the weapon of choice for perpetrators of mass shootings, who used at least one handgun 75 percent of the time, as opposed to at least one rifle (30 percent) or at least one shotgun (16 percent). Perpetrators in two-thirds of all mass shootings used only a single weapon.
  • Perpetrators are more likely to be male (96 percent), white (55 percent), and in their twenties (25 percent).


View the Consortium’s updated “Mass Shooting Factsheet.”


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