Mass Shootings in the United States: Prevalence, Policy, and a Way Forward

Published date01 November 2022
AuthorJaclyn Schildkraut,Lisa B. Geller
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterThe Efficacy of Interventions
ANNALS, AAPSS, 704, November 2022 181
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231164484
Mass Shootings
in the United
Policy, and a
Way Forward
1164484ANN The Annals of the American AcademyMASS SHOOTINGS IN THE U.S.
Mass shootings in the U.S. elicit strong reactions and
often are followed by demands for preventive or ame-
liorative policy action. Often, however, little change is
made to policy, and the cycle of tragedy and passionate
discourse is left to start anew. We assess the efficacy of
a range of specific policies that may help to prevent
mass shootings or mitigate their harms: we review
empirical evidence on their effectiveness and consider
arguments that both proponents and opponents of
these policies bring to bear on the public discourse. We
conclude that extant evidence and policy ideas that are
on the table now can, in fact, point to a productive way
forward: we argue for a proactive, layered approach to
policy implementation that minimizes risks and impacts
and capitalizes on effective interventions that enjoy
broad public support.
Keywords: mass shootings; school shootings; firearm
policies; domestic violence; prevention;
harm mitigation
Since the 1999 attack at Columbine High
School in Jefferson County, Colorado, that
killed twelve students and a teacher and left
twenty-four others injured, mass shootings in
the United States have been a cause for con-
cern among both the public and policy-makers.
The attention devoted to mass shootings, par-
ticularly by the media, often is disproportional
Jaclyn Schildkraut is the executive director of the
Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the
Rockefeller Institute of Government. Her research
focuses on school and mass shootings, school safety,
homicide and gun violence trends, and mediatization
effects. Dr. Schildkraut’s work has been published in
more than fifty books and journals.
Lisa B. Geller is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins
Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Bloomberg
School of Public Health. Her work focuses on research,
advocacy, and implementation of evidence-based gun
violence prevention policies, including extreme risk
protection orders and domestic violence protective
to their actual occurrence (Schildkraut, Elsass, and Stafford 2015). Homicides, of
which approximately 80 percent are perpetrated with a firearm (Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention 2022), account for 0.1 percent of all offenses
known to law enforcement, and an even smaller fraction of these cases are mass
shootings (Schildkraut, Elsass, and Meredith 2018). Despite their statistical rar-
ity, however, these events generate widespread concern and often are accompa-
nied by demands to “do something” to prevent the next attack.
In this article, we examine different policies and proposals that have been
offered by stakeholders, including legislators, in the wake of these tragedies as
potential solutions to address the broad issue of mass shootings. We organize the
policy responses into two categories: those that are designed to prevent mass
shootings from occurring and those that serve to mitigate the potential harms if
they do occur (for an overview of policies reviewed, see Table 1). We include
both as there is no one single policy or program that can sufficiently address the
“perfect storm” of factors that converge and result in mass shootings; different
options are necessary to provide a layered approach to minimize the risks and
Summary of Main Policy Responses
Preventative Response
Background Checks: Expand back-
ground check requirements to all sellers,
not just federal firearm licensees; improve
reporting of disqualifying records to the
background check system; eliminate the
default proceed option if results not
received in three business days; pair back-
ground checks with firearm purchaser
Protection Orders: Domestic violence
protection orders (DVPOs) are issued by
a court to protect victims and survivors of
domestic abuse. Extreme risk protection
orders (ERPOs) are civil orders modeled
off DVPOs but used solely to address
access to firearms for individuals at risk of
suicide or violence against others.
Threat Assessment: Identify potential
threats; assess their credibility and
whether the person making the threat has
the means to carry it out; and, if they do,
implement a management plan to moni-
tor and respond to the threatener to
deescalate their behavior and reduce the
risk of harm.
Emergency Preparedness Practices:
Efforts such as lockdown drills serve as
harm mitigation strategies and are used
to teach people to build distance
between themselves and the threat by
securing behind a locked door, turning
off the lights, moving out of sight, and
remaining silent, strategies that can be
used during mass shootings or threats
inside a location.
Limits on Assault Weapons and
Magazine Capacities: Assault-style
weapons have been found to be corre-
lated with more lethal shootings, while
bans on them have led to reductions in
these events. Limiting magazine capac-
ity would force perpetrators to reload,
giving people at the scene time to

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