The federal data available on active shooter incidents, mass killings and domestic terrorism

Published on August 9th 2019

The mass shootings on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas and Aug. 4 in Dayton, Ohio, and the shooting the previous week in Gilroy, California, brought to the national forefront several issues including domestic terrorism, gun violence and hate crimes.

In response, USAFacts is giving readers a look at the government data that is (and isn’t) available on those topics.

Authorities have labeled the El Paso shooting as domestic terrorism and a possible hate crime. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of hate crimes reported nationally increased by 32%. Read more about hate crimes in USAFacts’ analysis of FBI data.

Authorities have labeled the El Paso shooting as domestic terrorism and a possible hate crime. The federal government does collect and publish data on hate crimes, but there is limited data on domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as being “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, published a 2017 report delving into domestic terrorism and the “lack of an official public list.” According to the report:

The U.S. government does not keep a publicly available list of domestic terrorist incidents (foiled plots or attacks) … The development of such a list may be precluded by civil liberties concerns (i.e., inclusion in a publicly available list may impinge on a group’s exercise of free speech or its other constitutionally protected activities). However, a lack of official lists or processes to designate groups or individuals as domestic terrorists makes it difficult to assess domestic terrorism trends and evaluate federal efforts to counter such threats.

In June, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require the Department of Homeland Security to research and report data on domestic terrorism.

The government doesn’t have “mass shooting” data but it does track “active shooter” incidents.

In 2014, the FBI began specifically studying “active shooter” incidents to provide law enforcement “data so they can better understand how to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from these incidents.” That data covered incidents between 2000 to 2013 and has since been updated to cover incidents until 2018.

The FBI’s definition of “active shooter” is used by the agencies and others in the federal government. An active shooter is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated space.” In addition to confined spaces, the study includes open-space active shooter situations as well.

In compiling their data, the FBI notes that their data may not cover all incidents, but it does include the majority of active shooter incidents.

Between 2000 and 2018, the FBI counted 277 active shooter incidents, with 2017. having the most. That year saw 30 incidents resulting in 729 people getting wounded or killed, also the highest figures during this period. Much of this occurred in an October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and 489 were wounded at a music festival.

Active shooter data:
Total incidents
Number wounded and killed
Weapon types used in all incidents

Total incidents

All but eight states ⁠— Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Wyoming — have had at least one active shooter incident during this period.

USAFacts aggregated data from the FBI’s report on active shooter incidents. See the data on each incident on our Github page.

Beyond high-profile active shooter incidents, firearm deaths, in general, have been on the rise, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2000, there were 28,663 firearm deaths or 10.1 per 100,000 people. In 2017, there were 39,773 such deaths or 12.0 per 100,000 people. The number and rate of both suicides and homicides have increased during that period.

Firearm deaths by type

The federal government is prohibited by law from compiling a national gun registry. However, the FBI does have data on the number of firearm background checks per year and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) does track the number of firearms manufactured in the country.

Background checks peaked nationally at 27.5 million. In 2018, there were 26.2 million.

Firearm background checks

The number of firearms manufactured dropped 28% between 2016 and 2017 from 11.5 million to 8.3 million.

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