Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

The Importance of Analyzing Public Mass Shooters Separately from Other Attackers When Estimating the Prevalence of Their Behavior Worldwide


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Public mass shootings have traumatized Americans for more than fifty years, while similar incidents seem to have been extremely rare in other countries. Several years ago, I conducted a cross-national study which found that the United States had 30.8 percent of all public mass shooters from 1966–2012, despite having less than five percent of the world’s population (Lankford 2016). Unfortunately, John Lott and Carlisle Moody (2019; 2020) have created a great deal of confusion with their recent claims, which grossly underestimate the United States’ global share of public mass shootings. Here I explain: (1) why analyzing public mass shootings and other types of attacks as a single form of violence is as flawed as claiming that tornadoes and hurricanes are a single type of storm; (2) how readers can sort Lott and Moody’s dataset to more accurately estimate the United States’ global share of public mass shootings; (3) how Lott and Moody misrepresent approximately 1,000 foreign cases from their own dataset, and what the corrected figures actually show; and (4) why readers should think twice about trusting Lott and Moody’s claims. My original study’s findings have now been confirmed by multiple replications, with various approaches, using Lott and Moody’s own data.

This article is a response to Brought Into the Open: How the U.S. Compares to Other Countries in the Rate of Public Mass Shooters by John R. Lott, Jr., and Carlisle E. Moody (EJW, March 2020).