For Adam Lankford, it “isn’t rocket science” to explain the leading factor in mass shootings.
“By definition, firearms are needed for people to commit mass shootings,” the University of Alabama researcher wrote in a March paper.
“So in countries where it is easier for dangerous or disturbed individuals to legally purchase firearms — like the United States — there is an increased likelihood of an attack.”
That finding has been replicated across at least two academic studies. Yet prominent voices continue to point to other causes of mass shootings, like the two that killed over 30 people in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last weekend.
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed video games — but experts say that claim isn’t backed by research.
Trump also blamed mental health — but the FBI only found mental illness diagnosed in a quarter of active shooters over 13 years.
Academic research, however, is clear — high gun ownership has a close relationship to public mass shootings, far stronger than a country’s homicide or suicide rates.
Frederic Lemieux of George Washington University looked at the effects of gun culture and firearm laws on U.S. gun violence and mass shootings in a 2014 study.
From 25 industrialized countries, he found mass shootings correlating strongly with high gun ownership levels.
“The higher the gun ownership rate, the more a given country is susceptible to experience mass shooting incidents,” Lemieux wrote.
Lankford, meanwhile, looked at incidents involving mostly single-shooter incidents in 171 countries, in a 2016 study.
His dataset included 292 mass shooters who had killed a minimum of four victims between 1966 and 2012.
“Basically one of the questions I was trying to answer was why do some countries have more of these public mass shooters than other countries,” he told Global News.
Like Lemieux, Lankford found a strong correlation between mass shootings and high gun ownership, and a weak one with homicide or suicide rates.
In those 46 years, the U.S. led all countries with 90 mass shooters, far higher than the second-place Philippines (18), Russia (15), Yemen (11) or France (10).
The U.S. also topped the world for civilian gun ownership, with 270 million firearms and a rate of 88.8 per 100 people in the 2007 Small Arms Survey.
That dwarfed Yemen’s gun ownership levels, where there were 54.8 firearms per 100 people.
Switzerland, Finland and Serbia came after.
All five countries ranked in the world’s top 15 for public mass shooters per capita.
Lankford’s findings have been criticized by researchers like John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Centre, whose work has been cited by pro-gun advocates.
In an email to Global News, Lott described Lankford’s findings as “flawed,” and criticized him for largely focusing on incidents with a single shooter.
In March, he and economics professor Carlisle Moody produced a critique of Lankford’s study taking issue with Lankford’s decision to exclude “almost all incidents of terrorism outside the U.S. and most of the cases where more than one shooter is involved.”
By including such incidents, they produced a study looking at just under 1,500 incidents, compared to Lankford’s 292.
Of those incidents, they found the U.S. taking up a 2.9-per-cent share of mass shootings.
Thus, they concluded that “while the U.S. has a relatively large number of lone-wolf shooters compared to the rest of the world, it does not have a relatively large number of public mass shooters.”
Lankford’s March paper was a response to Lott and Moody’s critique.
In it, he asserted that “public mass shooters almost always attack alone,” and that his critics “ignore this fact.”
Their critique, he said, unwittingly showed that the U.S. had “more than six times its global share of public mass shooters who attacked alone.”
“I studied the type of public mass shootings that have plagued America for more than 50 years, which is why my study is composed primarily of shooters who attacked alone,” Lankford told Global News.
“This is consistent with more than a dozen separate studies and data sources, including those of the FBI, Congressional Research Service, and New York City Police Department.”
He went on to say that Lott and Moody’s research “includes massacres by hundreds of members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and large group attacks by soldiers, uniformed troops, paramilitary fighters, armed rebels and terrorist organizations.”
“As a result, his findings merely clarify what does not explain the type of mass shootings the United States does not have, anyway.”
Nevertheless, Lott’s research has found favour with the National Firearms Association (NFA), a group that pushes for “freedom and justice for Canada’s firearms community.”
NFA president Sheldon Clare described Lankford’s research as “flawed” and of having “no relevance,” in an email to Global News.
He also cited research, including Lott’s, which he said “conclusively demonstrated that none of Canadian firearms laws have had any effect whatsoever on reducing violent crime or suicide rates.”
U.S. Republicans have largely resisted the expansion of background checks in the past.
But on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants lawmakers to consider them when they return to Washington in the fall.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal are advancing a bipartisan proposal that would strike a federal grand program to help states bring in “red flag” laws that would take guns from people who present a danger to themselves, or other people.
— With files from The Associated Press
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