- In 2014, the FBI released a report identifying 160 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013.
- Researcher John Lott claims the FBI intentionally omits mass shooting incidents from earlier in the study period and includes too many incidents near the end of the study period to create the misconception that mass shootings increased over time.
- In reality, Lott’s false claim stems from a fundamental mistake. The FBI report studies active-shooting incidents while Lott discusses mass shootings and mass murders.
- According to the FBI: “An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” An active shooting can have any number of casualties.
- Public mass shootings have a number of definitions. Lott uses a basic definition of four or more killed in a single incident, and then excludes various categories such as terrorism, gang violence, and battles over sovreignty. Lott’s mass shooting definition differs from those of other academics (as the entry on international mass shootings highlights). For more details of other mass shooting definitions, see GVPedia’s Mass Shootings Report.
In a 2014 New York Post article, John Lott accuses the FBI of playing politics and manufacturing an upward trend in mass shootings. He calls the original Sep. 2014 FBI report identifying 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 “remarkably shoddy.”
Lott claims that the study doesn’t follow the FBI’s previous definition of mass shooting which required four or more murders or its new definition of at least three murders. Lott writes, “While the FBI study discusses ‘mass shootings or killings,’ its graphs were filled with cases that had nothing to do with mass killings.” In a 2015 ACJS Today article, Lott claims that mass public shootings have risen only slightly over the last four decades.
Lott made similar attacks on the FBI report for excluding certain incidents in a Nov. 2, 2020 article on his website. Lott claims in his 2020 book Gun Control Myths that “It appears the FBI is biased against including cases in which a concealed handgun permit holder stopped further carnage.”
Lott’s analysis of the FBI report published in the New York Post is full of errors. He claims that the FBI intentionally omits mass shooting incidents from earlier in the study period and includes too many incidents near the end of the study period to make mass shootings appear to have increased. However, Lott’s critique completely misses the entire point of the study: The FBI report examined active-shooting incidents, while Lott discusses mass shootings.
The study’s authors wrote a rebuttal in ACJS Today stating “Lott’s essential argument is a straw man; he accuses us of saying something that we did not and then attempts to show this is wrong.”
This is just one example of Lott referencing incidents that were rightfully excluded by the FBI authors because the incidents were not active shooting scenarios. Lott maintains a highly selective list of incidents on his website that “only includes cases where mass public shootings were stopped.” But this roster of prevented “mass public shootings” includes two knife attacks (neither of which had any fatalities), a Marine firing his gun in an empty parking lot, and several robberies (a type of incident Lott excludes from his statistical analysis on international mass shootings, as well as in his books). Additionally, Lott lists “possible cases” including the Tacoma Mall shooting, in which a permit holder confronted the shooter but was swiftly fired upon by him. The permit holder was left permanently paralyzed.
In his 2020 book Gun Control Myths, Lott claims “the problems with the reports continued during the Trump administration.” Lott further claims the FBI sometimes makes subjective decisions. Lott includes a list of shootings he believes the FBI unfairly excluded from the active shooter reports. However, four of the six shootings Lott uses as examples were the result of arguments rather than planned active shooting scenarios. In the two other cases, a person armed with a firearm attempted to stop the shooter but was critically shot by the perpetrator.
FBI, “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States from 2000-2013,” FBI, September 2013
John Lott, “The FBI’s bogus report on mass shootings,” New York Post, October 12, 2014
John Lott, “The FBI’s Misinterpretation of the Change in Mass Public Shooting,” ACJS Today, March 2015
Pete Blair and M. Hunter Martaindale, “Misrepresenting the FBI Active Shooter Report: A Response to Lott,” ACJS Today, May 2015
John Lott, ”More Problems With The Latest FBI Reports: 15% Of Active Shooter Attacks During 2014-19 Were Stopped Or Mitigated By Concealed Handgun Permit Holders, But Misses More Than Half The Cases,” Crime Prevention Research Center, November 2, 2020
John Lott, Gun Control Myths, 2020
John Lott, “Compiling Cases Where Concealed Handgun Permit Holders Have Stopped Mass Public Shootings,” Crime Prevention Research Center, April 21, 2015
Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes, “Gun-Rights Advocates Say Places That Ban Guns Attract Mass Shooters. The Data Says They’re Wrong,” The Trace, June 18, 2015
Dave Gilson, “9 Ridiculous Things in That BuzzFeed Post About Stopping Mass Shootings,“ Mother Jones, June 18, 2015