Public mass shootings like the slaughter of schoolchildren and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary have left 547 people dead and 476 more injured in the U.S. since 1983, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.
The CRS study—which was made public by the Federation of American Scientists—does not weigh in on whether restricting access to guns or ammunition would prevent future incidents, a cause President Barack Obama has championed since the December tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
The CRS study—which counts only the deaths of people other than the shooter or shooters—shows that mass shootings represent a relatively small portion of overall deaths by firearms in the United States. FBI figures show that guns were used to kill 8,583 people in 2011 alone.
“While tragic and shocking, public mass shootings account for few of the murders or non-negligent homicides related to firearms that occur annually in the United States,” the CRS study said.
What qualifies as a public mass shooting? CRS defined such incidents as “occurring in relatively public places, involving four or more deaths—not including the shooter(s)—and gunmen who select victims somewhat indiscriminately.The violence in these cases is not a means to an end—the gunmen do not pursue criminal profit or kill in the name of terrorist ideologies, for example.”
So the CRS study did not include Army Maj. Nidal Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood, which killed 13 and wounded 40 more, because it has been described as a terrorist attack. And the CRS definition excludes drug trafficking and gang activity as well.
The massacre of children 7 years old and younger at Sandy Hook sparked a fresh national debate about ways to prevent gun violence. But CRS found that workplaces, not schools, are the most common site for public mass shootings.
Of the 78 mass shootings CRS identified since 1983, 26 occurred “at workplaces where the shooter was employed either at the time of the incident or prior to it.” Twelve public mass shootings occurred in an educational setting, CRS found.
Obama has called for steps like a ban on assault weapons and limits on the number of rounds in ammunition magazines as part of a package of policies in response to Sandy Hook. Vice President Joe Biden, who has spearheaded the White House gun-control efforts, met on Thursday with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss gun safety.
Would such measures work? CRS won’t say.
“This report does not discuss gun control and does not systematically address the broader issue of gun violence,” the agency notes high up in the report. “Also, it is not intended as an exhaustive review of federal programs addressing the issue of mass shooting."