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Are Mass Shootings in America 'Hyperventilated' By Media?

Amid the stream of mass shootings that have become chillingly commonplace in the U.S., the reality of the nation’s staggering murder rate can often be seen more clearly in the deaths that never make national news, the Associated Press reports. On Monday, a rooftop shooter opened fire into crowds gathered for an Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb, killing at least seven people and wounding 30.

Less talked about, Chicago police say 68 people were shot in the city between Friday at 6 p.m. and just before midnight on Monday. Eight of them died.

Most gun violence is related to seemingly ordinary disputes that spin out of control and someone goes for a gun. Often, the victim and the shooter know one another. They are co-workers and acquaintances, siblings and neighbors. They are killed in farming villages, small towns and crowded cities.

Compared with much of the developed world, America is a murderous country. The United Nations estimates the U.S. homicide rate is three times that of Canada, five of France, 26 of Japan. There are more guns in the U.S. today than there are people.

If Americans often see the streets as ever more dangerous scenes of public mass killings, the reality is more complicated. While mass murders soak up the vast majority of the attention, more than half of the 45,000 annual firearm deaths are from suicide. Mass shootings — defined as the deaths of four or more people, not including the shooter — have killed from 85 to 175 people each year over the past decade.

The data on firearm killings are woefully incomplete, with just over sixty percent of law enforcement agencies reporting crime statistics to the FBI’s national database. So when politicians debate whether AR-15-style rifles lead to more killings, or if extended magazines that carry more bullets lead to more deaths, no one is really sure.

Centers for Disease Control statistics for 2020 show that authorities know what kind of weapon was used in just twenty four percent of firearm deaths.

“The coverage has given people the impression that things are different today, that we’ve never really experienced these (mass killings) before. But we have. It’s more common now, but it’s still extremely, extremely rare,” given the size of the U.S. population, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking mass killings since 2006 along with The Associated Press and USA Today.

Hyperventilating news coverage has contributed to the fear, he believes, with overwhelming, live coverage of mass shootings and reports that conflate mass shootings — where multiple people are injured — with mass killings. Just five percent of mass shootings end with four or more people dead, he said, “and only a quarter of those are in schools, churches and public places like that.”


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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