The United States has 200 million more guns than any other country. It also has the most mass shootings.
“That is not a coincidence,” says the author of a new study which proves that the more firearms per capita a nation has, the more likely mass shootings are to happen.
"The United States, Yemen, Switzerland, Finland, and Serbia are ranked as the Top 5 countries in firearms owned per capita…My study found that all five are ranked in the Top 15 countries in public mass shooters per capita," study author Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, said in a statement. His findings will be presented at the American Sociological Association's annual conference this week.
The research underscores what gun control advocates and a majority of Americans have been saying for a long time now: easy access to firearms in the U.S., along with the lack of protections like universal background screenings for gun buyers, have led to institutionalized, normalized mass violence in the country.
"[This analysis] can be rejected only by rage and hysteria and denial and with the Second Amendment invoked, not as a document with a specific and surprising history, but as a semi-theological dogma," wrote Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker earlier this year. "The argument has been revealed conclusively to be between people who actually want to reduce the number of gun massacres and those who prefer an attachment to lethal symbols of power."
Lankford's research is described as the "first quantitative analysis of all reported public mass shootings around the world that resulted in the deaths of four or more people." A mass shooting, according to the researcher's definition, excludes shootings in domestic settings (of which there have been many), gang-related shootings, hostage-taking incidents, robberies, and drive-by shootings.
Shootings between 1966 and 2014 were analyzed for the study, using sources like the New York City Police Department's 2012 active shooter report, the FBI's 2014 active shooter report, and multiple international sources.
"My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation's civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters," Lankford said. "Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings. My study provides empirical evidence of a positive association between the two."
In analyzing the differences between shooters in the U.S. and shooters abroad, Lankford found that U.S. shooters are more likely to attack a school, movie theater or other public gathering place. Abroad, they are more likely to attack in "military settings," which includes bases, checkpoints, and barracks.
American mass shootings are also 3.6 times more likely to involve more than one weapon during a mass shooting. In the U.S., more than half the mass shootings involved more than two firearms, something which Lankford attributes to the ease of obtaining firearms in the U.S.
The average amount of people killed per mass shooting was found to be lower in the U.S. (6.87 victims) than abroad (8.81 victims). That is a product of the sheer number of mass shootings that happen in the U.S., Lankford said, and partly attributed to the fact that law enforcement in the U.S. has adapted its training practices accordingly, which helps keep casualties down.
Absent is any mention of how "good guy with a gun" incidents might have minimized the casualties, when an armed bystander intervenes, often killing the would-be mass shooter. These incidents, upheld by gun-rights groups as a defense for gun ownership and concealed carry laws, have in fact happened periodically. For instance, one shooting in a Colorado church in 2007 that left two dead was cut short when an armed churchgoing woman shot and killed the gunman before he could let off more shots. The gunman was armed with an assault rifle, two handguns and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Despite these outstanding cases, the answer to mass gun violence is not more people with guns, according to the research.
"The most obvious implication [of the research] is that the United States could likely reduce its number of school shootings, workplace shootings, and public mass shootings in other places if it reduced the number of guns in circulation," said Lankford.
He points to the Australian approach to gun control as one that the U.S. might be able to emulate. Immediately after a mass shooting killed 35 people in that country in 1996, the nation passed comprehensive gun control laws and initiated a massive gun buyback program that reduced the total amount of firearms owned by the public in the country by 20%. "My study shows that in the wake of these policies, Australia has yet to experience another public mass shooting," said Lankford.
It's unlikely that this analysis, or Lankford's suggestions will make an immediate difference in Washington. The National Rifle Association, often referred to as one of the nation's most powerful lobbying groups of all time, is blanketly opposed to the any legislation that resembles what passed in Australia, and it has the political pull to sway politicians from voting for gun control laws. This even as the U.S. has averaged about a mass shooting a day so far in 2015.
What we now know is that — empirically — gun control reins in mass gun violence. That's the diagnosis. Now Washington needs to find a way to get to the doctor.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.