The recent tragedy at the University of California, Santa Barbara has reignited debate over the fraught issues of gun control, mental health, and school safety. The loss of any life is of course tragic. Parents, community members, and policy makers are right to ask questions about how each attack might have been prevented.
But some perspective is in order. Type “mass shootings” and “common” into a search engine and you’ll get all sorts of breathless commentary that might lead one to believe there Americans face a genuine epidemic of shooting rampages…
The truth, simply put, is that mass shootings —as horrible and nightmarish as they are — are very rare, constitute a tiny sliver of homicides, and are not becoming more frequent. The debate over how to respond to gun violence is controversial and unlikely to yield solutions that will satisfy everyone. That said, any efforts that intend to strike a balance between safety, self-defense, and civil liberties must take account of these inconvenient truths.
Homicide in America is far more common than it ought to be. But mass shootings — defined as four or more murders in the same incident — constitute a minuscule share of the total, as I discuss in “The Shooting Cycle” in the most recent edition of the Connecticut Law Review.