Shootings in public places that involve several deaths always get massive news media coverage, but what about the incidents the public rarely hears about — the shootings that are planned but never happen?
At least 139 “foiled attacks” have occurred in the U.S. since 2000, criminologist Jason Silva of William Paterson University in New Jersey told the American Society of Criminology on Thursday at its convention in San Francisco.
That is far more than the 92 “completed attacks” in that period.
Silva compiled the list of thwarted shootings from several sources, including law enforcement reports and news media stories. The list included only incidents in which people had a firearm or plans to attain one; mere threats were not counted.
He used the common definition of shootings in which four or more people were killed in a public place, which excludes domestic violence murders.
Perhaps not surprisingly, leading the list of sites at which shootings were stopped are schools, accounting for 56 percent of the targets. The average age of would-be shooters is 23.
By Silva’s count, some 34 percent of the potential shooters primarily were motivated by “fame seeking,” and 29 percent were ideologically inspired. Only six percent were aimed at specific victims—shootings that are usually difficult to prevent, Silva said.
There are many different definitions of “mass shootings,” leading to varying counts of the episodes from different sources.
Criminologists Kristen Neville and Jillian Turanovic of Florida State University have a U.S. Justice Department grant to compile a comprehensive list of mass shootings in the U.S. between 1980 and 2018.
Neville displayed a graph showing the numbers collected so far, which indicated a fairly consistent pattern of such events over nearly three decades. The years with the highest number of mass shootings are 1980, 1993, 2007 and 2016.
It is a myth that such cases have become much more frequent, Neville said.
That theme was echoed by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, who spoke on Tuesday at a National Press Foundation session for journalists in advance of the criminology meeting.
“What there is, is an epidemic of fear,” Fox said. He cited a recent Ipsos/USA Today survey that said 21 percent of Americans skipped public events where there would be a large crowd, fearing a mass shooting.
An ABC News/Washington Post survey found that six people in 10 fear a mass shooting in their community.
Additional Reading: Can Mass Shooter Attacks Be Prevented?
This report was prepared by TCR Washington bureau chief Ted Gest.