Mass shooting incidents probably happened closer to you than you think

Authorities retrieve evidence markers at the scene of a mass shooting Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)

A hallmark of the gun debate in the United States is how quickly it can devolve into pedantry. Discussions over incidents in which dozens of people are gunned down spiral off into ancillary debates over the proper terminology in describing the weapon used or the correct way to report on new developments in the incident.

One of the more enduring debates along these lines is over the descriptors used to refer to incidents in which multiple people are shot. The FBI refers to “mass killings” as incidents in which four or more people are killed by a shooter, but the government doesn’t define “mass shootings.” The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shooting incidents, uses a definition for mass shootings that echoes the “mass killings” definition: Any incident in which four or more people are shot.

There’s a blurriness to these events that derives in part from our emotional responses to them: A guy in Dayton, Ohio, opening fire near several bars, apparently intending to kill as many people as possible (as happened over the weekend) seems like a different thing than several people opening fire at a park after a dispute.

The effect of those acts, of course, is often similar.

Our tendency to focus on mass killings often means that more common incidents in which multiple people are shot can seem less remarkable and less noteworthy. We tend to lose sight of how often there are incidents in which multiple people are shot at a time.

How often? Below are incidents tracked by the Gun Violence Archive since 2014 in which at least 4 people were killed.

(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Not an insignificant number, though this includes incidents with multiple shooters and incidents in which a shooter was killed. But now let’s add incidents in which four or more people were wounded.

(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

How frequently do these incidents occur? We created this interactive allowing you to see how many such incidents occurred near where you are (or near a Zip code you specify). (To check your current location, you’ll need to give your browser access to your location. We don’t store this information.)

It’s important to note that murder rates from guns have dropped significantly since the early 1990s, a drop that unsurprisingly correlates to the drop in overall crime. But there are still a large number of mass shootings — perhaps more than you realized.

The easiest way to avoid mass shootings, the data suggest, is to move to empty rural areas in Wyoming or near the Idaho-Nevada border. There is, however, no easy way to avoid the gun debate.

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