Washington’s rate of mass shootings is low among the 50 states — recently fewer than three a year — but already 2016 has seen two shootings that resulted in seven deaths.
This past week, Mark Bryant has been slammed with phone calls from journalists.
Bryant is executive director of the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C., that tracks and verifies shootings around the United States in near real time.
“There’s your shooting,” he told me, referring to the Feb. 26 murder-suicide in Belfair that left five people dead, “and there’s the one in Hesston, Kansas, and couple others. So it’s been busy, because everybody gets interested when there’s a mass shooting — especially when it’s in your neighborhood.”
The GVA, which does no advocacy, has a designation in its data for mass shootings, defined as a single incident in which at least four people — not including the perpetrator — are shot. This standard is derived from the FBI definition for a mass murder.
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The tragedy in Belfair is the second such incident in Washington so far this year. In January, five people were shot — two fatally — in The Jungle homeless encampment in Seattle.
Since 2013, when the GVA began collecting data, there have been 10 mass shootings in Washington. That ranks right in the middle among the 50 states. When normalized for population, it pencils out to a rate of 1.4 incidents per million residents for those three years, placing Washington in the bottom third among the states. The 10 mass shootings here left 21 people dead and 29 injured.
Washington also ranks in the bottom third for the overall homicide rate. Here, as in most states, the rate of mass shootings correlates strongly with the overall homicide rate. For example, Louisiana — the state with the highest rate of mass shootings at 7.5 incidents per million people — also has the highest homicide rate.
That correlation makes sense to Bryant, who says most mass shootings are crime-related: “Our data collects drive-by shootings, gang-related violence, house parties that have gone amok … So those parallel with the national homicide rates.”
There are other segments of mass shootings, as well. “Like in Washington, you had the murder-suicide scenario where a family erupts,” Bryant said. “And then there’s the complete outliers, where somebody goes and shoots up a theater or shoots up a workplace or shoots up whatever. … You see a randomness there. We have no clue where they’re going to be.”
Even so, the trend is clear: Mass shootings are happening with more frequency. The national tally jumped from 254 in 2013 to 280 in 2014, and then to 330 last year — nearly one mass shooting per day. So far this year there have been 37, including the two in Washington.
One reason, according to Bryant, is that guns have gotten deadlier: “We’re seeing things like these extended magazines on Glocks that hold 30, 32 rounds. So you end up with a gun that will shoot 30 rounds out of a pistol, and it’s completely concealable.”
Bryant expects mass shootings to continue to rise. “I have a feeling this year is going to be worse because of the political rhetoric — just the level of angst this year,” he said.
“And I think that’s going to maybe increase the murder-suicides. That’ll be our first indicator that something’s weird.”
Bryant notes that “the angry, middle-aged white guy who just loses his nut, for whatever reason” is the typical profile for the perpetrator of a murder-suicide mass shooting. “Sometimes we get that ‘I don’t want my family to have to live in a world that is run by tyranny,’ ” he said.
He would like to know what “is causing people to be paranoid.”
“I would love for the FBI or somebody do a database that looks at mass shootings and what radio stations the guy had set to memory in his car. I want to know what that person is listening to. … I would say the number listening to talk radio is much higher.”