“Random” mass shootings such as the horrific crimes in Newtown, Ct., have increased in the U.S., says David Kopel of the Independence Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Alan Lankford of the University of Alabama analyzed data from a New York Police Department study of “active shooters” who attempted to murder people in a confined area, where there are lots of people, and who chose at least some victims randomly. Counting only incidents with at least two casualties, there were 179 such crimes between 1966 and 2010. In the 1980s, there were 18. In the 1990s, there were 54. In the 2000s, there were 87. Counting only such crimes in which five or more victims were killed, there were six in the 1980s and 19 in the 2000s.
In the mid-1960s, Kopel says, many of the killings would have been prevented because the severely mentally ill would have been confined and cared for in a state institution. Today, mental-health treatment has been decimated. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, the number of state hospital beds in America per capita has plummeted to 1850 levels, or 14.1 beds per 100,000 people. A 2011 paper by Steven Segal at the University of California, Berkeley, “Civil Commitment Law, Mental Health Services, and U.S. Homicide Rates,” found that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil-commitment laws.