The number of public mass shootings during a year of COVID-19 in the U.S. is the lowest in more than a decade.
A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings, defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter, back to 2006 showed just two public mass shootings this year. Both happened before the lockdowns took hold.
Two key reasons for the sharp drop-off: most people avoided going out in public during coronavirus lockdowns, which meant fewer opportunities for slayings in workplaces or schools, and Americans were so focused on other tragedies that would-be gunmen were less likely to carry out attacks.
The drop-off in high-profile shootings is heartening, but experts also note that other shootings have risen this year: gang violence, drive-by shootings and other random firearm deaths. Suicides involving a gun are in line with previous years, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive.
The first mass shooting happened Feb. 26, when an employee at a brewery in Milwaukee killed five co-workers before killing himself. The other occurred March 15, when a man killed four people in Springfield, Mo., before killing himself.
Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University hopes the lull will help break the cycle of recent years and reduce mass shootings.
The “contagion effect” suggests that the more the public hears about mass slayings, the more gunmen fixate on carrying them out.
Amid a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands, people who might otherwise feel compelled to wreak carnage may not feel quite so persecuted or alone in experiencing hardships, he said.
Mass shooters “tend to be people who feel that they are the victims of injustice,” Fox says. “Well, lots of people now are suffering, not just them. It’s hard to say right now that your own plight is unique or unfair.”
Besides the two public mass shootings, the AP/USA Today/Northeastern database tracked 10 family mass slayings, eight of which were shootings.
Three mass killings happened in the course of other crimes, and six attacks occurred for unknown reasons. Of those six, one may end up being classified as a public mass shooting — a Juneteenth block party in Charlotte, N.C., in which four people died by gunfire.