Newswise — The United States experiences over ten times as many mass shooting incidents as other developed countries. Surprisingly, there is limited research on the geographical distribution and specific types of these shootings.

Leslie Barnard, MPH, a student affiliated with the University of Colorado School of Medicine's Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative, is frequently confronted with inquiries about what actions public health is taking to address the surge in mass shootings.

Barnard, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, embarked on a mission to address public concerns regarding mass shootings from a public health perspective. Collaborating with the CU Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative team, she conducted an in-depth analysis of data spanning from 2014 to 2022. Their aim was to calculate cumulative incidence rates of different types of mass shooting events based on incident characteristics.

Today, the findings of their study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open. According to Barnard, the main objective of their research was to shed light on the "why, where, and how often" aspects of mass shootings to provide the public with a better understanding of this critical issue. She emphasized that while the study might not have all the answers, it does bring attention to significant factors that can lead to further exploration and the formulation of new hypotheses.

Visual context and sociological impact

Barnard and her colleagues at CU conducted a comprehensive study by scrutinizing state-level rates of different mass shooting event types, as well as the overall numbers of injuries and fatalities in the United States. They sourced their data from the Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as incidents where four or more individuals are shot or killed, excluding the perpetrator.

The research spanned a period of nine years, starting from January 1, 2014, and concluding on December 31, 2022. During this timeframe, the team calculated cumulative incidence rates of various mass shooting event types based on specific incident characteristics, alongside the total count of injured and deceased individuals per 1 million people.

Between 2014 and 2022, the United States witnessed a total of 4,011 mass shootings. The incidents varied widely across states, with figures ranging from zero occurrences in Hawaii and North Dakota to a staggering 414 incidents in Illinois. In Colorado, there were 60 reported mass shootings during this period.

Over the course of these nine years, the researchers categorized the mass shootings as follows: 27% were social-related, 16% were crime-related, 11% were related to domestic violence, 1% were connected to schools or workplaces, and 52% did not fit into any of these defined categories.

In terms of the toll on human lives, a heartbreaking total of 21,006 individuals were injured or killed as a result of these mass shooting incidents.

According to Barnard, the data analysis suggests that certain communities and victims may be underrepresented in the public discourse. While mass shootings in public places tend to receive media attention, it's concerning that 11% of the incidents are related to domestic violence, and there could be even more cases that go unreported or unnoticed by the media. This raises important questions about how to increase awareness and provide support for addressing this aspect of the issue.

Barnard suggests that future research should focus on evaluating various socioeconomic, political, cultural, and demographic factors that could be linked to mass shooting incidents across different states. Additionally, she emphasizes the importance of examining state policies and social determinants of health that may be associated with different types of mass shooting incidents. By delving into these aspects, we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying causes and develop more effective strategies to prevent and address mass shootings.

Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, the director of the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative and a professor of emergency medicine in the CU School of Medicine, states that she frequently receives inquiries about how Colorado fares compared to other states regarding mass shootings. The research findings reveal that Colorado is positioned in the middle, ranking 22nd in terms of the total number of mass shootings and the population-based rate of such incidents.

Mutual understanding to enact change

While Barnard is optimistic that her visual analysis will aid the public in grasping the magnitude of mass shootings, she acknowledges the presence of other discrepancies that hinder a comprehensive understanding of the issue and impede efforts for change.

She points out one significant challenge related to the definition of "mass shooting," which varies depending on the data source. While their research considers mass shootings to involve four or more persons shot or killed, some other data sources only focus on counting deaths. This inconsistency poses a particular difficulty for epidemiologists, as a cohesive and standardized definition is crucial for accurate reporting and analysis. Without a unified understanding of what constitutes a mass shooting, efforts to address the problem effectively face obstacles.

Barnard is confident that providing the public with visual data, as demonstrated in this study, will contribute to establishing a clearer and more concrete definition of "mass shooting." By visually showing the number of people injured or killed in these incidents, such data can be instrumental in formulating state-level prevention strategies.

Ashley Brooks-Russell, PhD, MPH, a coauthor of the study and the director of the Injury and Violence Prevention Center at the Colorado School of Public Health, highlights the importance of understanding the geographical distribution of mass shootings across the country and delving into the context surrounding these tragic events. For instance, gaining insights into how often such incidents occur in homes can help firearm injury prevention specialists develop targeted and effective measures to prevent them.

Barnard emphasizes the crucial role of the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative in driving positive change and fulfilling her personal mission to draw greater attention to firearm injuries.

She expresses deep gratitude for the unwavering support she has received from Emmy and the entire leadership team of the initiative, emphasizing that their guidance and assistance have been invaluable in conducting this research and will continue to be instrumental in future studies.



Journal Link: JAMA Network Open