America is on track to have a record number of mass shootings this year. So far in 2023 there have been 531 incidents in which four or more people were wounded or killed with guns, according to Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings through news and police reports. That’s 17 more than this time last year. At this rate, we could surpass last year’s toll of 645 mass shootings, the second-highest total on record.
Less and less of the United States remains untouched by mass shootings, according to GVA, which began tracking mass shootings shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, a full year before it began tracking daily shootings. There have been 4,283 of them in the past 10 years, killing 4,298 victims and wounding at least 17,632, a first-of-its-kind analysis by The Trace of 10 full years of data shows.
Mass shootings have more than doubled and, in all, more than 15 million Americans have now had a mass shooting in their immediate neighborhood. Though these shootings are still disproportionately concentrated in urban neighborhoods where Black and brown people live, nowhere is immune. More than 44 percent of mass shootings were outside of cities — in suburbs, medium and small towns, and rural areas.
Explore 10 years of mass shooting data
Mass shootings also varied by region, just like daily gun violence. The South had the highest number of mass shootings (1,898), and the second-highest per capita rate of shootings. Though the Midwest had fewer shootings (1,135) than the South, it had a slightly higher rate per capita. The Northeast had the fewest mass shootings (584) and the second-lowest rate per capita, while the West had the lowest rate per capita (666 shootings).
The Trace analysis looked at data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Illinois had the most mass shootings over the 10-year period (435), followed by California (406), Texas (281), and Florida (251). The District of Columbia, Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi had the highest rates of mass shootings. Only two states — Hawaii and North Dakota — recorded no mass shootings at all over the 10-year period we analyzed.
Mass shootings have not only risen in frequency but also lethality. Incidents in which four or more people are killed, which GVA refers to as mass murders, have nearly doubled over the past decade. In 2013 there were 21, including the Washington Navy Yard shooting in September 2013, which killed 12; last year there were 36, including the massacres at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and the Tops supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York.
Texas, a permitless carry state with no background check requirement, recorded more mass gun murders than any other state (32); California, with a population larger than Texas’, recorded 24. Just eight states experienced no mass murders from 2013 to 2022. The South had the highest rate of mass murders, followed by the Midwest. The Northeast had the lowest rate, which was one-third that of the South.
Mass shootings account for less than 5 percent of the nation’s gun violence toll. But the data suggests that over the years, daily shootings have grown to include more victims, turning what were once low-casualty incidents into mass shootings. Cassandra Crifasi, a co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions who researches mass gun violence, cited several possible reasons for this, chiefly the increasing permissiveness of gun access, a shift in firearm production that put more handguns on the market than ever before, and the development of guns that are able to accept magazines that hold a greater number of bullets.
Crifasi, who is a gun owner herself, explained that the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which for the first time established an individual right to gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense, “may have played a role in the production and attractiveness of handguns. And that’s related to some pretty major shifts we’ve seen in how states regulate concealed carry.” Since Heller, two dozen states have eliminated permit and training requirements to carry concealed handguns in public.
“So you have more people in more places carrying firearms that can fire more rounds than they used to be able to,” Crifasi said. “The popularity of these firearms is going to trickle through the market regardless of whether somebody can legally acquire a gun or not.”
Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, who has studied gun violence for four decades, said mass shootings are increasing because “firearm violence generally is increasing.” But he also suggested that the partisan rancor and factionalism of the past decade might have played a role, too.
That’s especially true of the increase in mass murders. In addition to the 2019 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, where the gunman targeted Hispanic and Latino people, there was the 2022 shooting at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, carried out by a white supremacist; the 2015 Charleston church shooting, which also targeted Black people; the 2016 Pulse shooting, which targeted the LGBTQ+ community; and last year’s shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ venue in Colorado Springs.
“We’ve become angrier and more polarized,” Wintemute said. “White supremacy, and hatred based on racialization and religious differences, has become more prominent — and the threshold for acting out that hatred has likely dropped.”
The increase in mass shootings is also leading to an increase in the number of people shot in those incidents. In 2013, 1,233 victims were shot in mass shootings and either wounded or killed, and nearly every year, the number has increased. In 2022, the total number of victims shot in such incidents was 3,298. In 2013, 279 people were killed in mass shootings, excluding the perpetrator; in 2022, 642 people were killed. 2021 had the highest death toll on record, with 668 people killed in mass shootings, excluding the perpetrator.
Crifasi, the Johns Hopkins researcher, pointed to policies that could reverse the trend. “Some of the research we’ve done has found that when you restrict magazine capacity, you lower both the rates of fatal mass shootings and the number of people injured,” she said. “When someone has to reload, there are more opportunities for people to intervene, and it makes it harder to harm a lot of people at once.”
The deadliest shootings tend to garner the most attention, but most mass shootings over the past decade transpired out of the national spotlight, and were just as devastating. Among those are shootings with a large number of wounded, often in communities of color — and often ignored by the mainstream news media.
In 2019, a dozen people were shot, one fatally, at the annual Old Timers Day festival in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Seventeen hours later, 14 people were shot, three fatally, at an annual garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Both shootings occurred at similar venues with similar casualty counts. But only the Gilroy shooting had sustained media coverage, receiving 20 times as much airtime on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC as the Brownsville shooting, according to a contemporaneous Trace analysis of national newspapers and cable news transcripts.
Domestic mass gun murders infrequently receive national coverage because they usually occur behind closed doors and typically pose no threat to the wider public. “But most mass shootings have an intimate partner violence connection,” said Wintemute, the UC Davis researcher. On October 27, 2022, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a man fatally shot his wife and six children ranging in age from 1 to 13 before taking his own life. The family had been under severe financial stress, relatives said.
In Bakersfield, California, in 2018, a man going through a divorce fatally shot his ex-wife and two men he suspected her of cheating on him with, then drove to a friend’s home and killed the man and his adult daughter before killing himself. The couple was in the midst of child support proceedings, and court documents revealed that the gunman had a history of spousal abuse. They left behind six children.
In 2013, a 15-year-old in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stole his parents’ rifles and killed them and three siblings, ages 2, 5, and 9. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2019. “You see all this stuff that happens all over the country, the shootings in the schools and theaters, and then it happens right here,” a neighbor said after the killings. “It’s sad.”