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Active shooters targeting the public from 2019 to 2023 spiked compared to prior 5-year period, FBI report says

Active shooters violently targeted members of the public across the U.S. at a rate that was 89% higher from 2019 to 2023 than in the previous five-year period, according to a new FBI report released Monday. Last year, 105 individuals were killed during active shootings, the highest level in recent years.

The public safety numbers released Monday by federal investigators showed a mix of slight year-over-year improvements in some areas of concern across the country — including a 4% decrease in active shootings in 2023 compared to 2022 — and small drops in other metrics, like total casualties and “mass killing” events.

The report  — which by design examined just a portion of the broader incidents of gun violence nationwide — reveals a consistent trend in which shootings targeting members of the public remain historically high, an increase of 60% since 2019. Forty-eight active shooter incidents targeted, killed or injured people in 26 states during 2023, down from 50 in 2022. Among those attacks,15 met the federal definition of a “mass killing,” in which three or more victims are killed during an attack. That’s up from 13 in 2022.

In three active shootings last year, law enforcement said there were no reported injuries or deaths.

Law enforcement officials gather in the road leading to the home of the suspect being sought in connection with two mass shooting, Oct. 26, 2023, in Bowdoin, Maine.
Law enforcement officials gather in the road leading to the home of the suspect being sought in connection with two mass shooting, Oct. 26, 2023, in Bowdoin, Maine. 

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

The newly-released study defined an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Active shooter incidents, according to the FBI, do not include shootings in which an individual was acting in self-defense, drug or gang-related violence or shootings tied to other criminal activity.

The federal government said it released the numbers — as it has in recent years —  “to provide law enforcement officers, other first responders, corporations, educators, and the public with a baseline understanding of active shooter incidents.” Still, the report qualified its findings by noting that there is neither a mandatory reporting system that specifically tracks active shooting incidents nationwide nor a “central intake point for reporting active shooter incidents, as there is for other crimes.”

California was the state in which the highest number of active shooter attacks took place (8), followed by Texas and Washington (4 each).

Throughout the U.S., 244 victims were shot by active shooters last year; 139 were injured and 105 were killed. Compared to the previous year, total casualty rates — injuries and deaths combined — were down from 313 in 2022, but five more people were killed in 2023 than in 2022.

Open spaces like roadways, neighborhoods, outdoor venues or parks were the most frequent locations of the attacks, accounting for 28 incidents. Three active shooters targeted schools in 2023, according to the FBI’s report, two at colleges or universities and one at a pre-K–12 grade school. Twelve were killed and 7 wounded during those shootings, including three young students and three faculty who were killed by a shooter at Covenant Presbyterian School in Nashville, Tennessee.

A shooting in Lewiston, Maine, in which the perpetrator killed 18 and wounded 13 was the single highest-casualty event of 2023, the FBI said. The attacker wielded an assault rifle when he opened fire inside a restaurant and bowling alley in October.

In 2023, 43 handguns and 16 rifles were used by suspects to carry out their attacks, down from 26 rifles fired during attacks in 2022.

And while the number of shootings slightly decreased between 2022 and 2023, the total rates of active shooter events remained elevated compared to past periods. The 89% increase between 2019 and 2023 compared to the previous five-year period accounted for the deaths of 449 civilians and eight law enforcement officers.

The FBI’s report comes just weeks after the federal government released preliminary numbers that showed a 15% drop in violent crime in the first quarter of 2024 compared to last year. However, only 72% of law enforcement agencies had provided their crime data at the time of the release.

While the FBI tracks violent crime data and shootings nationwide, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is tasked with regulating and tracing crime guns across the country. Earlier this year, the agency moved to limit what is known as the “gun show loophole.” Regulators started a process to expand the definition of a firearms dealer to clarify that sellers at gun shows and flea markets and who sell through the mail are required to obtain specific approvals and run background checks before selling guns. The new rule is currently being challenged in federal court.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down another ATF rule that was first introduced during the Trump administration that outlawed the use of bump stocks, devices that greatly increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons.

In recent months, survivors and victim families of some recent attacks have publicly supported a proposed law that would restrict semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, has said mass shootings carried out with assault weapons between 2015 and 2022 left an average of nearly six times as many people shot as shootings without assault weapons.

The FBI said in a release Monday that the report is meant to encourage stakeholders to “shift their focus from the perpetrators of active shooter incidents toward the victims, survivors, and heroes who stopped them, as well as the communities that come together to help in the healing process.”

As part of their own healing process, congregants and community members in Pittsburgh broke ground Sunday for a new memorial and museum dedicated to the 11 victims who were killed by a shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the 2018 antisemitic attack.

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