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200 The history of mass shootings
  1. Ariana Gobaud
  1. 1Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
  2. 2Gun Violence Research Center, Rutgers University


Statement of Purpose Though mass shootings do not account for the greatest number of gun deaths, these incidents garner a great deal of public attention; particularly in light of the disparate media coverage which varies according to victim, location and perpetrator characteristics. The perceived increase in mass shooting incidents may be due to the lack of a standardized definition among media, researchers and law enforcement and consequently, the general population.

Methods/Approach We conducted a narrative review of the literature to understand the evolving definition of mass shooting, the history of the term and specific events that led to paradigm shifts. We coded content for characteristics and patterns of mass shooting events that made them newsworthy.

Results The first documented mass shooting occurred in 1949. The phenomena did not exist before because there was no access to semi-automatic weaponry. The first notable modern mass shooting took place at Columbine High School, an event that remains the most reported mass shooting to date. Over the last 5 years, the use of the term mass shooting has outpaced the true increase in number of events though variation in measurement accounts for the lack of agreement on exactly how much. For example, in 2015, there were either 7, 65, 322, or 371 mass shootings.

Conclusions There is an increased public perception of mass shootings because of a lack of understanding of their real prevalence or their determinants, trends, social costs, and policy implications.

Significance and Contributions to Injury and Violence Prevention Science In order to understand the change in mass shootings over time, a formal definition of the term needs to be established using the same victim, event, location, and perpetrator characteristics to capture the majority of mass shooting events.

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