When the final fatality count comes in, today’s shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College may be one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. The New York Times reports that the 26-year-old gunman killed 9 people.
It is also part of a disturbing trend, one that many feel might just be an illusion of the 24-hour news cycle. Last year Jesse Singal wrote in New York that “Media coverage plays a big role” in the perception of increased shootings. “It's a visceral example of the availability heuristic— the easier it is for us to think of a certain type of event (whether a school shooting or a plane crash), the higher we rate its probability.”
Do we feel like there have been more mass shootings because we see more of them? It was easy to think so earlier this summer when Vester Flanagan shot Alison Parker and Adam Ward on camera, and much the same today as conflicting details of the Umpqua shooting rolled out of Twitter and flickered on CNN. Even Donald Trump told reporter Philip Bump this afternoon, “It’s happening more and more. I just don’t remember—years back, I just don’t remember these things happening. Certainly not with this kind of frequency.”
Trump’s memory isn’t failing him. Although there have been historical clusters of mass shootings in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘60s, mass public shootings (defined as having four victims or more) have been increasing, especially in the last few years. They've also become deadlier.
In 2014, the F.B.I. released a report of active shooter incidents ("an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area") that showed the number increasing both in frequency and in number of fatalities. Between 2000 and 2006 there were an average of 6.4 shootings annually, but between 2007 and 2013 the average more than doubled to 16.4. Researchers from Harvard using data from Mother Jones determined found a marked increase in mass shooting frequency since 2011: Between 1982 and 2011, a public mass shooting occurred on average every 200 days. Since 2011, that has increased to once every 64 days.
A study by the Congressional Research Service also showed that mass shootings are becoming deadlier. In the 1970s, mass shooting incidents resulted in an average of 5.5 deaths, but that average was up to 7.4 between 2010 and 2013. Out of CNN’s list of the 27 deadliest shootings, 14 have happened in the 21st century. Six of the twelve deadliest have occurred since 2007. The two deadliest—Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, with 32 and 27 killed—were in 2007 and 2012, respectively.
Mass shootings are a distinctly American problem—more mass shootings happen here than anywhere else in the world—and it’s a worsening problem. In this case, perception is reality. Even Trump, who has pooh-poohed the need for gun control and called gun violence a "mental health problem," can see that.
Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly stated that the shooting at Umpqua Community College was the 45th mass shooting this year. It was the 45th school shooting in 2015, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. This article has also been updated to reflect the latest tally of victims and the killer's age.