It seems like there’s a constant drumbeat of bad news about mass shootings. I’ve been starting to wonder if there really are more mass shootings than there used to be or if we’re just seeing more mass shootings than we used to. It looks like we’re just seeing more mass shootings, thanks to an increased focus by the news media. James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, provides this data.
Why, then, is there such a powerful feeling that things are getting worse? Media coverage plays a big role. It’s almost hard to believe today, but there was a time in the not too distant past when people in New York might not even hear about a school shooting that happened across the country. Today, every incident immediately explodes onto the national stage and is then amplified a millionfold by social media. It’s a visceral example of the availability heuristic the easier it is for us to think of a certain type of event (whether a school shooting or a plane crash), the higher we rate its probability. But this is an illusion; just because it’s easier than it ever has been to think of an example of a shooting doesn’t mean these events are more likely than they were in the past.
The trend lines shows that the number of victims has been edging upward but that the number of actual incidents has stayed flat, over nearly a 40-year period.