This June, one weekend saw 11 people killed and 60 injured in mass shootings. The end of that month marked the U.S.'s deadliest six months of mass shootings in decades, and on July 22, an attack in a Houston park brought the number of mass shootings in 2023 to 400. More and more, it seems there’s no place to avoid the threats they pose.
But some states are certainly more dangerous than others, at least according to a new dataset released by a team at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which for the first time maps the geographic distribution of mass shooting incidence rates. In their study, published July 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, the authors provide clear metrics on mass shootings in each state and the District of Columbia from 2014 through 2022.
Among statistics like the numbers of shootings related to domestic violence, crime, and what the authors call "social motivations"—like racism, religious hate, and domestic terrorism—the authors provided the rate of mass shootings per capita in each state. The result, which uses data from the Gun Violence Archive, is a simple geographic distribution showing where people are most affected by mass shootings, which the study defines as an incident where four or more people, not including the shooter, are shot or killed. (There’s no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a mass shooting, making results like these difficult to compare across studies).
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The largest, more densely populated states like California and Texas have the most mass shootings in almost any given year. But when accounting for the number of people who live in each state, however, these behemoths have nowhere near the highest rates in the country. Texas, in fact, falls right in the middle as the state with the 25th highest rate, with 1.05 shootings per 1,000,000 people. California is in 27th place.
The states with the highest rates of large-scale gun violence are mostly clustered in the south: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, along with Missouri. With the exception of Missouri, all of these states were also among the five with the highest rates of social-related mass shootings, including the racist 2015 attack on a Charleston church. Louisiana also had the highest rate of crime-related mass shootings, and, along with Mississippi and Missouri, also came out near the top in domestic violence-related mass shootings.
Only two states, Hawaii and North Dakota, saw no mass shootings at all in the 9 years included in the study.
Though the authors of the study didn’t provide theories on why rates were higher in certain states and regions than others, the seemingly large variety in key motivations across mass shootings in the high-rate Southern states suggest that it may be worth investigating other potential common factors at play.
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