Could more gun control have stopped 2015's deadliest mass shootings?
In 2013, Barack Obama proposed changes to US gun law and was dramatically defeated. We analyze the possible effect of those policies in the 20 largest mass shootings of this yearMona Chalabi, The Guardian
Last modified on Monday 14 December 2015
Last Wednesday, two mass shootings happened in America. In one of them, 14 people were killed and 21 others were injured, prompting Barack Obama to describe stronger background checks for gun purchases as “common sense”. Earlier that same day, two gunmen killed one person and injured three others in Savannah, Georgia. In neither case is there any evidence that the killers obtained their guns illegally.
That’s not surprising. A Guardian analysis of the 20 shootings with the most fatalities in 2015 found that most gunmen obtain their weapons legally. But had a range of proposed federal reforms designed to strengthen gun laws been in place, many of those mass shootings could have been less likely to have happened. In nine of the 12 cases where information was available, tougher laws could have prevented killers from obtaining their guns.
To fully understand the impact of America’s gun control measures, it’s important to look beyond the handful of mass shootings that acquired enough headlines to puncture national consciousness. The most thorough source that currently exists is Mass Shooting Tracker, a collaborative project where users find and verify media reports to count the number of US mass shootings each year. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident where four or more people are shot – the injuries do not have to be fatal for the shooting to be included in their database.
In 42% of the 353 mass shootings recorded in 2015 so far, there were no reported fatalities. An additional 47% of those mass shootings resulted in between one and three people killed. But it’s harder to understand the role of gun control legislation in those mass shootings with fewer victims – often the shooters’ names aren’t known, let alone whether they had a criminal record or which guns they used. When only three Americans die, shootings usually aren’t remembered by the names of the locations where they took place.