In 2013, the president signed into law the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, which granted the attorney general the authority to assist in the investigation of “violent acts and shootings occurring in a place of public use” and in the investigation of “mass killings and attempted mass killings at the request of an appropriate law enforcement official of a state or political subdivision.”
To provide further clarity on these threats, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014 initiated a study of “active shooter” incidents. The goal of the FBI study 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.
Active shooter is a term used by law enforcement to describe a situation in which a shooting is in progress and an aspect of the crime may affect the protocols used in responding to and reacting at the scene of the incident. Unlike a defined crime, such as a murder or mass killing, the active aspect inherently implies that both law enforcement personnel and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses.
The agreed-upon definition of an active shooter by U.S. government agencies—including the White House, U.S. Department of Justice/FBI, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency—is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms.
For purposes of its study, the FBI extended this definition to include individuals, because some incidents involved two or more shooters. Though the federal definition includes the word “confined,” the FBI excluded this word in its study, as the term confined could omit incidents that occurred outside a building.
Whether inside or out, these incidents still posed a threat to both law enforcement and the citizens they seek to protect.
This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence—pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public— were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope. Nonetheless, it was undertaken to provide clarity and data of value to both law enforcement and citizens as they seek to stop these threats and save lives during active shooter incidents.
As a result, the FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents that occurred in the United States between 2000 and 2013. Though additional active shooter incidents may have occurred during this time period, the FBI is confident this research captured the vast majority of incidents falling within the search criteria. To gather information for this study, researchers relied on official police records (where available), FBI records, and open sources. The time span researched was intended to provide substantive results to aid in preparedness and response efforts. This study is not intended to explore all facets of active shooter incidents, but rather is intended to provide a baseline to guide federal, state, tribal, and campus law enforcement along with other first responders, corporations, educators, and the general public to a better understanding of active shooter incidents.