One in three days in January had a mass shooting

The first mass shooting of 2016 in the US happened January 6 in Lakeland, Florida, when three men drove to a reported drug den and fatally shot three of its four residents. The fourth victim was shot in the face but survived.

By the end of January 6, three people had already died in mass shootings. By the end of the month, the total had grown to 22 deaths spread across 11 mass shootings.

some data

  • day with one shooting
  • two shootings
  • no shootings
Credit: Sarah Frostenson

The shootings from the first month of 2016 span the country, from Los Angeles to Seattle to Wilmington, Delaware. There have been shootings in large cities like Chicago, and in small cities like Ware Neck, Virginia, where an 18-year-old gunman fired at a passing car. That incident killed an 18-year-old man and left a 15-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man injured.

The deadliest incident occurred in Chesapeake, Virginia, where a man killed five of his family members, including his grandmother, before killing himself.

These numbers come from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a nonprofit formed in 2013 to provide free online public access to gun-related violence stats in the US. This data was first collected and crowdsourced by Mass Shooting Tracker, but at the end of 2015 Mass Shooting Tracker joined forces with GVA.

The January data is a stark reminder that mass shootings continue to happen with regularity in the United States — even if many of them don't get much media coverage.

Credit: Sarah Frostenson

Overall, 22 people were killed in a mass shooting in January. Last January 38 people were killed, but in January 2014 only 14 were killed in mass shootings. The fluctuation in deaths from year to year makes it hard to identify a definitive trend in the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings. But keeping track is important, as it allows us to understand the scope and severity of America's problem with gun violence.

Here are a few of the mass shootings in the GVA database that happened this past January:

GVA uses the FBI definition of a mass shooting, which is defined as a single event where four or more people are shot (not necessarily killed) and does not include the shooter in the tally. It's important to note, however, that there is not one universally accepted definition of what constitutes a mass shooting, and many methodologies differ from how GVA collects its data.

Some counts, like the one compiled by USA Today, only track mass killings, or events in which four or more people were killed. Mother Jones also maintains a database, which, like USA Today’s, only tracks events in which four or more people were killed, but Mother Jones excludes shootings related to "gang activity, armed robbery, or domestic violence." (GVA does not exclude shootings related to gang or domestic violence.)

Mass shootings are one part of America's gun violence problem

On the whole, regardless of differences in classification, deaths from mass shootings make up a small fraction of deaths from gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2013 alone, 33,636 people died in firearm deaths, or 92 people every day. But looking at 2013 data from the Mass Shooting Tracker, only 502 of those deaths — or 1.5 percent — were connected to mass shootings.

Most gun deaths in the United States (21,175 of 33,636 in 2013) are suicides. And most non-suicide deaths (11,208) are homicides. The rest are classified as accidents and police shootings. And while it's true that homicide rates have reached historic lows, no other developed country in the world has the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times the rate of Sweden, and nearly 16 times the rate of Germany, according to UN data compiled by the Guardian.

This is not to say that Americans shouldn't care about mass shootings. But mass shootings are only one part of the equation in America's ongoing problem with gun violence.