Dr. John Lott, Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) recently released a paper written while he was a Senior Advisor for Research and Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy.
His paper, Corrections to the FBI’s Reports on Active Shooting Incidents (May 31, 2021), examines the FBI’s previously released reports on “active shooter incidents” (ASI). The FBI defines an “active shooter” as one or more individuals attempting to kill or killing other people in a populated area. “Implicit in this definition is the shooter’s use of one or more firearms. The ‘active’ aspect of the definition inherently implies the ongoing nature of the incidents, and thus the potential for the response to affect the outcome.”
The FBI published its initial report in 2014, titled A Study of Active Shooter Incidents Between 2000-2013, using information from “104 police department records, after action reports, shooting commission reports, open sources, and FBI resources.” Since then, the agency has published additional annual or bi-annual reports. As stated in the initial report, the goal of these studies is “to provide federal, state and local law enforcement with data so they can better understand how to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from these incidents.”
According to Dr. Lott, “all five reports so far issued were found to have serious errors.” These distort the trend of attacks over time and the evidence on factors that may be important in curtailing attacks in the future.
The premise of the FBI’s initial report was that a drastic increase in ASIs occurred between 2000 and 2013, escalating from one incident in 2000 to 17 in 2013. However, Dr. Lott’s paper indicates that the FBI failed to include twenty incidents in that time span, and that these “missing cases were three times more likely to have occurred from 2000-2006 than from 2007-2013, thus exaggerating the increase that was widely reported on.” Once these cases are included and placed in the context of pre-2000 data, it becomes evident that there “has only been a slight, statistically insignificant upward trend over the 38 years from 1977 through 2014,” and even this slight uptick is due to high numbers in a single year (2012).
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