Friday, December 11, 2015

Gun Deaths in America: Suicides, Homicides, "Mass Shooting Tracker" Data


Important note: RMF:12/24/2015 Shooting Tracker data  is now maintained by Gun Violence Archive at

This is an attempt to parse some of the data from Shooting Tracker and talk about death by firearms in America. The project took me a bit longer than I wanted because that data needed normalization and corrections and because the subject is somewhat poorly researched due to Congressional limitations on research. See my R code here.  I bound together Shooting Tracker data from three years of  mass shootings which those publishers define as any shooting that injures and/or kills four or more combined. This definition gives us 1,347 dead and 3,817  injured  from "mass shootings" for the three year period 2013 - 2015 (to date).  Before we talk about this comparatively small number of deaths and injury, some background statistics are in order on gun violence in America. I assume the data is accurate and analyze it as I find it for all my sources including Mass Shooting Tracker, CDC and the FBI.
Understanding the Big Picture of Gun Deaths in America


~33.6K firearm deaths occur in America every year according to the Center for Disease Control. About ~21K of those firearm deaths are from suicides. (There are about ~41K suicides each year in America.) Some estimates are that 70% of all suicides in America are white males.  Suicides themselves have an inverse relationship with population density, the causes of which are not completely understood. These numbers essentially mean that the vast majority of all gun deaths in the United States are from white, rural males shooting themselves in numbers that vastly exceed homicides of all other types collectively.  An excellent map demonstrating  some of this can be found here. More data can be found here:

Although suicide through the use of firearm or otherwise can literally be described as an unsolved epidemic, "mass shootings" cover a very small percentage of all firearm deaths in America. (For the Shooting Tracker database: 1,347 dead and 3,817  injured  from "mass shootings" for the three year period 2013 - 2015 to date).  However, the more high volume mass shootings create most of the high profile national discussion around gun control.  Although I have heard no one else come to the following conclusion, suicide by firearm data is so numerically overwhelming and compulsive that if we were to enact strict gun control in America, the probability would be that rural, white males who now own guns would benefit the most from reduced deaths by firearm.

Homicides and Other Deaths By Firearm

Growing up in east Oakland, I would have told you that the world just swims in an everyday pool of chaos, violence and trauma. That love shines through, if and only if you avoid getting shot or beat up. Reading crime statistics on homicide and violence leaves me with the same thoughts. We live in a violent and dangerous world. There is really no other rational conclusion that can be obtained from interpreting homicide and violence data. Others summarize this data much better than I ever could. 

I've added some graphics to show homicides by type per year from the FBI Expanded Homicide Data Table 8 . Click to enlarge graph:

At least one organization (The  Gun Violence Archive) attempts to categorize all types of gun violence, apparently with the exception of suicides. Their research and numbers (data is available by request), includes data on injuries, defensive use, accidental shootings among others. Note, however that the yearly  FBI sums of ~9K homicides +  the CDC sums of  ~ 21K suicides leaves ~3K other shootings to categorize or approx 10% of all firearms deaths that are neither homicides nor suicides.


"Every day, 30 Americans die in gun homicides. Another 200 are injured by bullets.These incidents of gun violence are recorded in every corner of the country. Including yours." from


Shooting Tracker Deaths

Shooting Tracker 's data is important because of a nineteen year old ban on CDC research of gun deaths in America and this data is quoted and discussed nationally .  I assume the data is accurate and analyze it as I find it for all my sources including CDC and the FBI.  In an article  on The Trace,  the spokesperson and administrator for Shooting Tracker  (Brock Weller) points out that existing FBI definitions  of mass shootings (4 or more deaths) simply aren't adequate because they don't include all those who are injured by gun fire as well.  Thus, in an irony that the original founders of the internet would surely find germane to the internet's purpose, Mr. Weller (a 'bar cook' from Portland, OR.)  is tracking nationwide critical data of which our Congress prevents CDC research and our FBI mass shooting metric tends to minimize!  Several points standout as I look at Shooting Tracker data:
  1. Most of the top cities for mass shootings have well known, documented histories of narcotics trafficking and organized crime. The top five cities for injuries and deaths due to mass shootings are Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Washingtion (DC) and Baltimore.
  2. Single locations shootings that injure and/or kill more than 9 people are 'rare', comprising less than 4% of all deaths and/or injuries for all mass shootings for the three year period.
  3. Single location shootings that injure and/or kill either 4 - 5 people are the most numerous type of  mass shooting events comprising 83% of all mass shooting events for the thee year period.
  4. 72% (757) of the 1052 mass shootings for these three years have a 'Shooter' that is described as either unknown, undisclosed, unreported in this database. Apparently, most "mass shooters" really do get away with murder?
These are  two of the subjective reactions I have to my explorations into this data: 
  1. First, if I was a person of color or poverty living in Chicago,  New Orleans,  Detroit,  Washingtion (DC) and Baltimore,  I would probably be wondering why it took the world so long to start documenting all the "mass shootings" in my neighborhoods. Is the country really starting to care now?
  2. Second, What in the name of [your choice here] has really been going on in Chicago?
Onto the data. I use top ten lists for cities and states. If you would like all the data on the lists your best best is to download R from the CRAN archives, run my code and email me if you have questions. I avoid naming suspects or suspected perpetrators in my output. Click to enlarge the graphs.

Mass Shootings: (Dead + Injured) ~ Location Sorted By Volume
Mass Shootings: (Dead + Injured) ~ Location Sorted By (alpha) City

Chicago has the most mass shootings over the three year period; nearly double that of New Orleans. When combined, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit have more mass shootings in the three year period than the next six cities on the list combined.

tbl_df(arrange( + Injured) ~ Location,data=GV)),desc(Freq)))
Source: local data frame [541 x 2]

           Location  Freq
             (fctr) (int)
1       Chicago, IL   243
2   New Orleans, LA   123
3       Detroit, MI   109
4    Washington, DC    88
5     Baltimore, MD    80
6      Brooklyn, NY    75
7     St. Louis, MO    75
8       Houston, TX    71
9         Miami, FL    66
10 Philadelphia, PA    66
..              ...   ...

We can look at the a top ten list for dead and injured in mass shootings by number (n) of incidents. Although there are some cities (New Orleans, Washington, Miami) that are on both lists, most are not . Do the locations of the most violent mass shooting events have little in common with the most violent cities?

arrange(tbl_df(count(GV,Location,"DI"=(Dead + Injured))),desc(DI))
Source: local data frame [708 x 3]

             Location    DI     n
               (fctr) (int) (int)
1  San Bernardino, CA    31     1
2            Waco, TX    27     1
3      Washington, DC    21     1
4          Kileen, TX    20     1
5     New Orleans, LA    19     1
6          Cyprus, TX    18     1
7     New Orleans, LA    17     1
8        Roseburg, OR    17     1
9           Miami, FL    15     1
10         Fresno, CA    14     1
..                ...   ...   ...

Most mass shooters are marked as unknown on this list. I will assume most "mass shootings" are unsolved.

Source: local data frame [298 x 2]

                   Shooter     n
                     (chr) (int)
1                  Unknown   745
2              Undisclosed    10
3               Unreported     2
..                     ...   ...

Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans also lead the nation in the number of mass shootings.

Source: local data frame [541 x 2]

           Location     n
             (fctr) (int)
1       Chicago, IL    49
2       Detroit, MI    21
3   New Orleans, LA    20
4     St. Louis, MO    17
5     Baltimore, MD    16
6      Brooklyn, NY    15
7       Houston, TX    14
8  Philadelphia, PA    14
9    Washington, DC    14
10      Memphis, TN    13
..              ...   ...

This list shows us how rare are mass shootings with more than 10 dead and/or injured. The bulk of mass shootings involve four or five victims. I find the drop off telling. Despite the headlines, injuring large groups of people is often a singular occurrence in the broad panoply of American gun violence.

(count(GV,(Dead + Injured),sort=TRUE))
Source: local data frame [19 x 2]

   (Dead + Injured)     n
              (dbl) (int)
1                 4   622
2                 5   253
3                 6    67
4                 7    54
5                 8    18
6                 9    13
7                10     6
8                12     5
9                13     2
10               14     2
11               17     2
12               11     1
13               15     1
14               18     1
15               19     1
16               20     1
17               21     1
18               27     1
19               31     1
..              ...   ...

Death by Location:
tbl_df(arrange( ~ Location,data=GV)),desc(Freq)))
Source: local data frame [541 x 2]

             Location  Freq
               (fctr) (int)
1         Chicago, IL    32
2         Houston, TX    25
3           Tulsa, OK    21
4  San Bernardino, CA    18
5       Baltimore, MD    16
6         Detroit, MI    16
7      Washington, DC    16
8         Phoenix, AZ    15
9       St. Louis, MO    15
10       Columbus, OH    14
..                ...   ...

This next query ranks in descending order the number of mass shootings events (n) by the number of Dead + Injured (DI) in that event. Given their locations, one assumption would be that these are gang related or narcotics trafficking related shootings, but establishing that is beyond the scope of this post.

arrange(tbl_df(count(GV,Location,"DI"=(Dead + Injured))),desc(n))
Source: local data frame [708 x 3]

           Location    DI     n
             (fctr) (int) (int)
1       Chicago, IL     4    24
2       Chicago, IL     5    14
3       Detroit, MI     4    12
4   New Orleans, LA     4    12
5     St. Louis, MO     4    12
6  Philadelphia, PA     4    11
7  Indianapolis, IN     4    10
8      Brooklyn, NY     4     9
9         Miami, FL     4     8
10    Baltimore, MD     4     7
..              ...   ...   ...

Events by City:

Source: local data frame [519 x 2]

             V1     n
         (fctr) (int)
1       Chicago    49
2       Detroit    21
3   New Orleans    20
4     St. Louis    17
5     Baltimore    16
6      Brooklyn    15
7       Houston    14
8  Philadelphia    14
9    Washington    14
10      Memphis    13
..          ...   ...

Events by State are biased here by population: CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, PA, OH, GA, NC, MI is the order of the ten most populous states.  The "mass shooting event" descending order for the last three years is: CA, IL, FL, TX, NY, GA, PA, MI, NC, OH :

Source: local data frame [50 x 2]

       V1     n
   (fctr) (int)
1      CA   124
2      IL    82
3      FL    70
4      TX    57
5      NY    53
6      GA    45
7      PA    42
8      MI    41
9      NC    40
10     OH    40

Horizontal view of mass shooting by volume distribution.

Vertical view of mass shooting by volume distribution. Blue trend line is 'lowess' function.


My conclusions after working on this post really have my head spinning.  There is so much more to understand about gun violence in the United States and world wide. Here are some of my questions in no particular order:

Although we can say, for example that we don't outlaw sugar despite having nearly twice the number of deaths each year from diabetes as firearms, we also don't have a constitutional amendment protecting sugar consumption. Same logic works for motor vehicles. If we want to stop deaths from those technologies, we don't have a constitutional amendment in our way. Perhaps something else is...

 As "the conspiracy theorist" (not the "data analyst"), I find the very existence of a nineteen year old ban on CDC research of gun deaths extraordinarily suspicious. I am not willing to toss the blame for all of that on the NRA or gun manufacturers. Have we become a democracy of anti-intellectual, corporate sponsored lobby group interests? Not quite yet, I would counter. I suspect there may be deeper interests prohibiting the analysis of ~33.6K firearm deaths per year. BTW, why is it that the number of guns owned in the United States seems to eerily parallel the number of vehicles? (e.g. over 300M for both cars and guns?)

Why does it seem like almost no one cares about the ~41K suicides per year, ~21K of which are commenced through use of a firearm.? Could it be that we simply don't want to discuss why rural Americans and Veterans are killing themselves at such high rates? Why do we not talk about the facts that 70% of all suicides are apparently white males (of varying age groups), many of which appear to be rural white males?

Why aren't we discussing the fact that the cities with the most "mass shootings" are clearly those known to be burdened with poverty, narcotics trafficking, and organized crime? Many on the media and national level talk about mental illness and domestic violence as causes of gun violence. However, my first look at the data reveals what appears to be both a desperate rural and inner city America; both regions are known to suffer greatly from poverty and access to resources. How much can we really attribute gun deaths to  mental illness and domestic violence?

There are so many questions the research for this post has set in my mind.


J said...

Thank you for addressing this issue head-on, of which nobody else has had the courage to do. I greatly appreciate your insight!

Ryan M. Ferris said...

Thanks J! I think there is continuing interest in firearm deaths.

Ryan M. Ferris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joy Gilfilen said...

This is fascinating information frankly. It puts media hype into another new level of perspective for me. Comparing the number of suicides to actual shootings, to the risk of dying from sugar, puts it all into a relational context.

The contextual correlation I then see, as a marketing and business person, is that this drama in the news drives sales from the fear that is sparked with mass shootings...and it drives people to buy more jails, more police armoring, more protection.

Ryan M. Ferris said...


To my mind, gun sales are definitely being driven by mass shooting hysteria, anti-Muslim rhetoric and gun control discussion and other rhetoric. Gun sales for the last three year are at all time highs. We will break a record for 2015 NICS FBI checks. See this post:

Levi said...

Even though I am very late in reading and commenting this article, I find it very well researched except for a couple of angles.

Gun homicides related to criminal to criminal shootings such as gang turf wars over drug sales.

I grew up in Chicago and the large number of shootings are related to gangs fighting over drug sales.

The other angle is shootings going down as States pass gun carry laws. Your one graph shows shootings going down however I would not be surprised if they start going back up due to poor economic conditions.

I'm very glad you pointed out the obvious, that many people purporting guns as too dangerous do not, such as sugar and vehicles kills MANY more.

I think it boils down to accepting the risk of guns to live in a free society as all the notorious rulers have taken away gun rights first such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao etc.

Our government is not immune from decent into tyranny.