According to an OpEd in the NY Post by John Lott and Michael Weisser that cites a report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, America doesn't lead the world in mass shootings.

"Of the 86 countries where we have identified mass public shootings, the US ranks 56th per capita in its rate of attacks and 61st in mass public shooting murder rate. Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Russia all have at least 45 percent higher rates of murder from mass public shootings than the United States." (bolding mine)

I don't think it would be a particularly controversial claim to say that the US has lower gun violence rates (including lower mass shooting rates) than impoverished countries. However, the claim that Norway, Finland and Switzerland have higher mass shooting rates than the US leaves me skeptical due to the large disparity in overall gun violence.

Does the US not have a higher mass shooting rate than Norway, Finland or Switzerland? Do the above numbers, as presented, accurately depict the reality of mass shootings?

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    I took a look at link provided with research. Most amount of cases (I read so far) regarding Russia are episodes of Chechen War. I don't think armed clashes between federal military and local armed separatists during (de-facto) civil war are what people usually call "mass shootings". – Mikhail Gerasimov Sep 27 at 1:24
  • The fundamental confusion/mislead seems to be whether you include "war related" events. – Fattie Sep 30 at 17:22
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    One should also note that it's a common fallacy to compare large and small entities in relative statements without thorough statistical treatment. Small entities usually have larger relative fluctuations and are much more likely to be the worst or best in many disciplines just because of statistical effects. One maybe should restrict the comparison to countries of similar size. Norway, Finland, Switzerland are all much smaller than the US. – Trilarion Oct 1 at 9:02
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    Norway has had 1 mass shooting. I suspect these numbers are doctored by finding the smallest populations having a single mass shooting and then presenting aggregated measures. What a fine way to produce the numbers you want. – Stian Yttervik Oct 2 at 11:45
  • @MikhailGerasimov it should count. I mean, right to bear arms may cause mass shooting. But it reduces probability of civil war. It provides incentives to "work" things out rather than protesting. – user4951 Oct 2 at 17:22
up vote 229 down vote accepted

As discussed in this answer and this answer when you use a term like "mass shooting", your results become particularly sensitive to your definition. Additionally, results will be sensitive to search strategy, since cases are assembled from searches for news reports. Because the results are sensitive to definition and search strategy, they are susceptible to bias.

The authors of the OpEd are Michael Weisser, aka, "Mike the Gun Guy", and John Lott, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center the organization that publishes "The War On Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies".

The study the OpEd references was conducted by the same Crime Prevention Research Center, was not peer reviewed, and does not have a coherent methods section with a well defined search strategy or case definition. To me, it reads like an undergraduate student's report or a blog post, not an academic study. Most of the section on definitions and search strategy is a discussion of perceived problems with a peer reviewed study by Adam Lankford that is beyond the scope of this claim. They start with events listed in the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, and then add events found using a defined nexis search and an undefined "web search", which included wikipedia.

While it is possible the claim is true, the evidence used to support it is not peer reviewed or thoroughly described, and it is conducted by a biased source.

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    @jamesqf I believe I did challenge the study directly: there is no coherent methods section, and the web search strategy is undefined. These are objective problems that produce a high risk of bias. The conflict of interest is especially relevant when there is such a high risk of bias. Yes, it would be just as much of an issue in a study produced by advocates of gun control. I'm not sure why that fact would makes it less relevant here. Notice that i didn't say that the risk of bias and conflict of interest made the claim false, it just doesn't provide good support for the claim. – De Novo Sep 27 at 17:41
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    @jamesqf as far as my earlier comment about this not being my field -- gun violence is not my field. Research methodology is. This is objectively a poorly conducted study with a high risk of bias (see above). – De Novo Sep 27 at 17:44
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    @jamesqf First you said I didn't challenge the methodology, now you say I did, but was just looking for reasons to justify a knee jerk reaction. The first things you should look for when evaluating any population level rate are the case definition and the methods for identifying cases. There is no knee-jerk reaction or confirmation bias here. The study fails immediately, when investigating what you should look at first. – De Novo Sep 27 at 19:57
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    @jamesqf Its not an ad hominem at all. When something hasn't been peer reviewed, and doesn't even properly explain its methods, an enormous conflict of interest is sufficient reason to completely discount a source until you find real evidence. – mbrig Sep 27 at 22:12
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    @jamesqf Do you have any example where the author here has condoned a non-peer reviewed paper with missing methodology section from anti-gun people or is that just an ad hominem? – Voo Sep 28 at 8:30

In a comment, @MikhailGerasimov gave a link to the list of incidents.

By browsing this it is clear that the claims include acts of terrorism and war. (But being curiously selective about it, I found no reference to attacks by US or allied forces in Afganistan, only Taliban and its allies)

There is no war going on in the US. There are very few terrorist attacks there. This means that, yes, it is safer in the US than many other places. Mass shootings in the US gain massive head lines, but aren't all that common, really, compared to war zones.

I jumped a bit at seeing Norway mentioned since we are a peaceful country. Looking at the list I see one single shooting. It turns out that in a small country with only 5 million people, a single shooting is enough to put us above the US. Technically correct, but hardly statistically significant.

It is an interesting fact that there are very few terrorist attacks in the US. Given that they are "the great enemy" according to many terrorist organizations, one might expect there to be more.

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    To put this into perspective, Wikipedia puts homicide rates of Norway and the US at 0,51 and 5,35 per 100k and year. – JollyJoker Sep 27 at 8:58
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    From the official statistics, politiet.no/globalassets/04-aktuelt-tall-og-fakta/drap/… , you can see (in 2.2) that the total number of people murdered in Norway in 2009 and 2010 was 60, which is less than the 69 killed in the one mass shooting in 2011. If you look at only gun related murders (in 2.4) the total number of people murdered with a gun in Norway from 2008 to 2017 is 36. – Jan Obrestad Sep 27 at 10:11
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    The magnitude of that singular 2011 event combined with Norway's small population (less than that of 22 US states) will keep Norway on top of the charts in terms of mass shooting deaths per million people per year from 2011 to the present for the next decade or so. Singular outliers combined with small populations combined with cherry picking oftentimes make the mean a misleading statistic. – David Hammen Sep 27 at 12:33
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    @Chieron Quite so: the Vatican has (by a colossal margin) the highest per-capita rate of petty theft in the world, simply because millions of tourists visit every year, and many are pick-pocketed, in a country whose official population is given as exactly 1,000 individuals. – KRyan Sep 28 at 14:52
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    @KRyan It's like the old joke about Bill Gates walking into a bar, suddenly the average person in the bar is a multi-millionaire. – Barmar Sep 28 at 15:39

Snopes explains it as cherry picking:

The first thing to note about the rankings is that Lott has compared the mass shooting death rate in the United States with that of other countries where there was a mass shooting between 2009 and 2015. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to point out that very many countries did not see a single mass shooting as defined by Lott during this period.

The second striking thing about the list of mass shootings in Europe is that it is dominated by outliers. Where the United States saw at least twelve mass shooting deaths every year between 2009 and 2015, some of the other countries on Lott’s list experienced one or two rare but very high-casualty shootings. When you average out the death rates, this creates a highly misleading impression about the consistency and lethality of mass shootings outside the United States.

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To further illustrate the point, even counting terrorism, Norway only has one significant event in the past 50 years, whereas it appears that not a day goes by in the USA without somebody shooting multiple people.

According to this 2012 article on gun homicides, the average per 100k people gun homicide rate was 4.9 globally, 3.0 for the US, and 0.4 for Europe (not counting Kosovo, Montenegro, and Russia due to missing data).

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    The point about leaving out zeroes is a very good one. You get a skewed view of how much rain there is if you leave out days with no rain. – JollyJoker Sep 28 at 8:40
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    I think average is what counts more than median. The probability is small. It doesn't change the fact that you are more likely to be victim of mass shooting in Norway than in US. It's not misleading at all. It just shows that mass shooting in US is overrated – user4951 Oct 2 at 17:51
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    There's a closely related effect to the one discussed here, well known to statisticians, which is that small counties/states/countries have larger variability in rates than large ones (a kind of 'small county' effect). Consequently any list of rates like this will almost always be topped by small countries -- but with something like the rates under discussion, it will typically be different small countries in different years (it might be Norway for one period and Serbia for the next period, as one or two events bumps countries up the list and 0 events drops them back out again). – Glen_b Oct 3 at 5:22
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    @LarsH There are few deaths from mass shootings per year over large areas and long times. The shortish time window and small countries included means those countries that happened to have a mass shooting have a misleadingly high average, since including areas and times when no shootings happened would lower the average. – JollyJoker Oct 3 at 7:53
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    In light of this it would be interesting to see what happens if were to either include all of Europe together (presumably the metric would drop by a lot) or you broke the US down by state (presumably resulting in a finding that X, Y or Z state are mass shooting hot spots). – Eric Nolan Oct 3 at 11:51

TL;DR? The USA has so many mass shootings that the average deaths-per-shooting is lower than other places.

Let's break down what he's calculating: The rates of murder from mass public shootings per million people.

This means that, when there is a mass shooting(1) in public(2), that if we account for population(3), more people are murdered(4) .

By using a baseline of one mass shooting = one mass shooting, he's already removed the point of contention: that the USA has many more mass shootings than anywhere else in the world. So already, Norway with one mass shooting is being equalized with the USA, with hundreds.

By specifying in public, he skews things even more in his favor. The United States does not currently have major conflicts or wars on its own soil, which he is counting towards this metric. Anecdotally, more people die in public than in private in a war, though I can't find any statistics to back that up.

By making it per million people, the fact that the USA has 360-odd million people is used as an advantage against smaller European countries.

More people are murdered: this is the thing he's measuring. IF there's a mass shooting, and IF it's in public, how many people die? Norway has had one mass shooting. In it, 69 people died. That's 69 murders (69/1) per mass shooting. Whereas in the US, we've had 155 mass shootings and 1107 killed. That's 7.14 (1107/155) murders per mass shooting.

This has generated a bit of confusion, so here's a simple example:

Let's use apples. I'm a farmer, and the local kids have been stealing my apples. They've stolen 100 apples over 10 incidents, for 10 per incident. However, the rats once got in and ate 15 apples. Does that make the rats a bigger threat, or the kids? I'd argue the kids (the US). They'd argue the rats (Norway).

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Barring small sample size (as in Norway), isn't per capita, or per million people if you prefer, precisely the right way of measuring mass shootings? – Obie 2.0 Sep 27 at 22:49
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    @Obie2.0 yes, that would be the case when there is enough data to average. Sample size really matters for the viability of averaging, given extreme outliers. If the data had been averaged over the entirety of Europe, comparing the values would be justifiable. – Chieron Sep 28 at 12:40
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    @Obie2.0 Yes, as a statistician, I'd make sure it was per-capita. But when you're already equalizing it via the per-shooting metric, the per-capita thing is double-dipping. – Carduus Sep 28 at 13:35
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    Now I know the other thing what is wrong with the Op-ed: Time frame. Modern mass shootings started with the Tower Sniper Charles Whitman who killed 16 people. The op-ed cherry picking starts with them JUST looking at 2009-2015, so as to include Breiviks 2011 ideological massacre. If you do a comparison of year by year, it would become immediately clear that 2011 is an outlier for Norway, but presented as regular occurence by Lott and co. – GwenKillerby Sep 28 at 14:42
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    To extend your metaphor a little -- the rats could be seen as a bigger threat if they had very recently gotten in and eaten the 15 apples. You only have a single datapoint, but if rats got in once, they'll get in again, and so it may make more sense to defend against the rats to avoid losing another 15 apples two days after the first 15, even though the second 15 hasn't happened yet. That doesn't apply here (2018 - 2011 > 2 days) – Nic Hartley Sep 28 at 18:31

There is another issue with this study. It states: "Of the 86 countries where we have identified mass public shootings, the US ranks 56th per capita in its rate of attacks and 61st in mass public shooting murder rate". However there are about 196 countries in the world today. It is not clear whether the other 110 countries were excluded on the grounds of missing data or whether they were excluded on the grounds that they had zero mass shootings. If it is the latter, then they have been mistakenly missed from the accounting procedure and the US should be ranked 56th out of 196 not 56th out of 86.

Another issue is that the FBI definition used by CPRC specifically excludes gang and drug related violence but not terrorism leading to an additional source of bias. The FBI report the CPRC reference, specifically states on page 5 that "This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face". This may decrease or increase the USA's relative ranking.

However in some ways a more important point is that the total death rate from mass killings is low everywhere in the world outside of warzones. One wonders whether a greater benefit would be achieved if the attention directed to reducing mass shootings was directed instead at continuing to reduce the number of deaths due to armed conflicts in the world, addressing domestic violence or even reducing people's sugar intake.

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    The first answer already pointed out that the NYP op-ed doesn't even mention the other 110 countries. However, you make this point more clearly and with numbers, so that's better. Of those 110, there must be some at least where there's no mass-shooting whatsoever. Luxemburg, Andorra, French Guiana, Vanatu Island come to mind. So they are unfairly excluded, to make the USA look better. – GwenKillerby Sep 28 at 14:27

Note the subtle but important discrepancy between the headline and the detail:

"America doesn’t actually lead the world in mass shootings"

...

A new report from the Crime Prevention Research Center, which one of us heads, has just finished collecting cases using the same definition of mass public shootings used by Lankford.

John Lott/CPRC tend to focus specifically on public mass shootings, which actually excludes the majority of mass shootings. The exact numbers depend on which time periods and which definitions you use, but even this 2014 CPRC report acknowledges that the scope makes a huge difference. Condensing from pp. 4 & 5:

The 2014 CPRC report counts only public mass shootings and excludes "gang fights and shootings which occur in connection with some other crime, such as robbery". They contrast their results to Everytown For Gun Safety, which does include shootings that happen in private and those which are connected to other crimes. Over the period between January 2009 and July 2014, the CPRC criteria find 25 mass public shootings with a total of 180 deaths; in the same period, Everytown finds 110 mass shootings with 560 deaths.

In other words, according to CPRC's own publication, the "public mass shootings" included in their reports only cover about 32% of all mass-shooting deaths and 23% of mass-shooting incidents in the USA.

The headline of John Lott's NY Post article makes a claim about "mass shootings" in general, but the only evidence it offers for that claim is research on a specific subset that covers less than a third of mass shootings. That should be enough to mark it as highly questionable, even before we get into the cherry-picking issues that have been raised in other answers.

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