How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings

U.S. Rate is Lower than Global Average.
by John Lott

Bogus Research
How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- A paper on mass public shootings by Adam Lankford (2016) has received massive national and international media attention, getting coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, plus hundreds of other news outlets spanning at least 35 different countries.

Lankford’s claim was that over the 47 years from 1966 to 2012, an enormous amount of the world’s mass public shooters — 31% — occurred in the United States. Lankford attributed this to America’s gun ownership.

Lankford claims to have “complete” data on such shooters in 171 countries. However, because he has neither identified the cases nor their location nor even a complete description on how he put the cases together, it is impossible to replicate his findings.

It is particularly important that Lankford share his data because of the extreme difficulty in finding mass shooting cases in remote parts of the world going back to 1966. Lack of media coverage could easily lead to under-counting of foreign mass shootings, which would falsely lead to the conclusion that the U.S. has such a large share.

Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years.

Even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, his 31 percent estimate of the US’s share of world mass public shooters is cut by over 95 percent.  By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.

Given the massive U.S. and international media attention Lankford’s work has received, and given the considerable impact his research has had on the debate, it is critical that this issue is resolved. His unwillingness to provide even the most basic information to other researchers raises real concerns about Lankford’s motives.

The paper is available to be downloaded here.

“The power of this report should convince academic and medical groups to reevaluate all prior statistical studies of mass shootings and the overall public health danger of firearms,” said Professor Arthur Z Berg, M.D., DLF APA, Harvard University emeritus. 

Here is a graph that the New York Times put together using Lankford’s data (data on the rate of mass public shooters by country that has not been released to anyone other than the New York Times) and our graph using the corrected data. While the graph with Lankford’s data shows a positive relationship between the rate of mass public shooters and Small Arms Survey measure of gun ownership (it appears to be driven by the outliers of Yemen and the US), our graph implies a slightly negative relationship. Click on Figures to enlarge.

Adam Lankford Mass Shooting Data Flaws Highlighted
Adam Lankford Mass Shooting Data Flaws Highlighted

“Because of faulty research, it is widely believed that a disproportionate share – 31% – of the world’s mass public shooters occurred in the United States,” said Professor Paul Rubin, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics, Emory University.  “In fact, John Lott’s careful analysis of a very large data set – 437 – pages – shows that the proper number is about 2%, less than the U.S. share of world population.  One can only hope that this important research will correct the record.”

Professor Carl Moody, College of William & Mary offered the following: “This is an important paper. The assertion that the US is responsible for 31 percent of worldwide mass shooters is patently absurd. Anyone who doubts the veracity of Dr. Lott’s analysis is welcome to download, for free and in Excel format, the entire Global Terrorism Database (https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/contact/). There they will find, with a simple back of the envelope calculation, that worldwide since 1970 there have been 58,445 mass firearm attacks. Of these, 402 have occurred in the United States. The US is, according to the GTD. responsible for less than one percent of all mass shootings (0.69 percent) since 1970. Dr. Lott’s calculations are much more carefully done, but Professor Lankford’s analysis is clearly not in the ballpark. Also, social scientists seldom have laboratories. Replication is the only way to verify claims. Any academic who refuses to share his or her data for replication purposes deserves to be shunned.”

UPDATE: So what has been Adam Lankford’s response? He told the Washington Times:<

“I am not interested in giving any serious thought to John Lott or his claims,” he said in response to an email seeking comment. . . .

This is an amazing response from someone who has refused to provide even the most basic data to other researchers. After reading our study or looking at Appendix 1 listed below, people can judge for themselves the appropriateness of Lankford’s response.

Appendices 1 and 2 for our research on mass public shootings around the world are available here.


About Crime Prevention Research CenterCrime Research Prevention Center

The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) is a research and education organization dedicated to conducting academic quality research on the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety; educating the public on the results of such research; and supporting other organizations, projects, and initiatives that are organized and operated for similar purposes. Visit: www.crimepreventionresearchcenter.org

  • 9 thoughts on “How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings

    1. Quite obviously, Lankford did not expect a rebuttal study of the extent, accuracy and caliber of Lott’s work. The lesson here: Statistics can be corrupted, manipulated, and far from the facts and the truth. I strongly suspect the dirty hands of George Soros or one of his ilk behind the Lankford attempt to sway opinion of those who are largely uninformed, ignorant, and gullible. Someone tossed money at this, as usual, and we have pretty good ideas by now where that comes from.

      And of course, the usual media outlets jumped on Lankford’s bogus work like stink on sh*t, eagerly but erroneously hoping to raise the anti-gun fervor yet higher. Something only fools would believe, by now. Here, we see truth once more poking holes in propaganda. The validating comments by academics referred to in the article lend credence to the Lott study’s veracity. Bravo, Mr. Lott.

    2. If you won’t back up your research by allowing others to look at your source data, you’re almost certainly hiding something. The fact that Lott was able find 15x the number of shootings using only 1/3 of the era that Lankford used suggests he was “selective” about his data to the point of cherrypicking. Maybe he set up some very particular rules for what counted as a mass shooting, similar to what others have done for “school shooting” or “mass shooting” here in the USA, in an effort to change the data set. Setting up new rules isn’t actually “manipulation” of data, so it’s not enough to get you blacklisted from grants… but it’s enough to make honest researchers question everything you do after that. Unless you can justify good reasons for using new rules, you don’t use new rules and spit in the face of everybody who did the work before you.
      If this guy is federally funded in any way, it would be good to FOIA his data and email communications regarding the data and methods of analysis. I’m guessing that since King Obama propped him and his “data” up as exemplary, he’s almost certainly got some kind of federal support. I’d look up his paper, but

    3. Follow the money….Lankfords “research” reeks with the corrupt stench of the George Soros propaganda machine.

    4. Could it be that a socialist democrat is lying. . . again? About Guns? If a person has two guns instead of just one, is that person twice as likely to do something illegal with either? How about three guns owned by one person – would that person be three times likely to do something illegal? Gee, I think I will go into BS research. This is easy!

    5. Typical leftist gun grabber misinformation. Now, the gun grabbers will site the flawed study and completely ignore the correct information. Just the usual B.S.

      1. piper – that is key. Who funded the ‘study’, what was their goal, and WHY does Mr. Lankford flatly refuse to cooperate with anyone – much less Lott – regarding his methodology and where he got his data. Based on the article, it seems that the data is readily available to anyone who really wants to analyze it in a realistic manner. That he refuses such disclosures casts a huge degree of doubt on his ‘findings’.

    Leave a Comment 9 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *