Deconstructing the Rockefeller Institute’s Machine Gun Shootings Data (Or Not)

In October 2019, a very interesting paper was published regarding mass public shootings in the United States by the Rockefeller Institute of Government titled Deconstructing Mass Public Shootings.

From the paper’s abstract:

When it comes to mass shootings, the United States is tragically in a class of its own. There are more mass public shootings in the US than in any other country in the world. By some estimates the United States has experienced 318 mass public shootings between 1966 and 2017.

It appears to be a scholarly attempt to rationalize more gun people control. Without a whole lot of interest, I idly skimmed over it, thinking maybe I’d do a full-scale fisking.

Then this tidbit virtually leapt off the page and grabbed me by the eyeballs.

Handguns are the weapon of choice in mass public shootings. At least one handgun was used in 75 percent of mass public shootings. Handguns are followed by semiautomatic rifles (24%), shotguns (21%) and automatic or “assault” rifles (10%). In addition to firearms, 15 percent of perpetrators obtained non-firearm weapons such as Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs), knives, and blunt objects, among others.

This isn’t the commonly seen “assault weapon” misnomer that’s so often used. Authors Joel A. Capellan and Allan Y. Jiao of Rowan University clearly differentiate between semiautomatic and automatic rifles.

They claim to have found that 10% of 318 mass public shootings during the time period were committed with automatic weapons: 31 to 32 shootings depending on how they rounded the decimal place.

I found that number astonishing. As of the publication date of their paper, I had documented fewer than five criminals uses of machine guns as defined in 26 U.S. Code § 5845(b) since passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934. And none of those uses were mass public shootings as defined by Capellan and Jiao (“the killing of four or more individuals in one or more closely related locations within a 24-hour period”).

Currently, I have confirmed six criminal uses, three unconfirmed possibles, and I found numerous undocumented anecdotal references to 1980s Miami shootings. And still none were mass shootings.

In hopes of updating my machine gun information, I asked the authors for their source data for the “automatic or ‘assault’ rifle” shootings. After two and a half weeks of reaching out to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, Rowan University, and the authors, lead author Capellan finally responded and promised to have the data sent to me.

That was five weeks ago. The data was never sent, and Capellan does not answer emails. Thus, I do not know what the alleged incidents were; when, where, who, nor the actual type of weapon.

I can, however, speculate.

My first thought was that they encountered news accounts of weapons reported as “MAC-10,” “AR-15,” or “AK-47” and mistook them for automatic weapons. If such were the case, a review of their data would have revealed it and I could quietly inform the authors so that they could quite professionally retract and revise their paper.

But the time-frame — 1966-2017 — they use for their study is interesting, as is the number of shootings they say they found.

Their first footnote is “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries,” Lankford, 2016“, which also found mass shootings starting in 1966, and up to 2012. Lankford found 292.

suspect Capellan and Jiao used Lankford’s list, and updated for US shootings up to 2017. I see that as a possibility because Lankford’s 292 mass shootings over a 46-year period is an average of 6.35 shootings per year. Adding in the additional five years, at the same rate, of Capellan’s and Jiao’s study period would be 323.7 shootings; that’s only a few more than the number they claim: 318.

If they did so, that’s a rather large problem. Lankford’s now debunked list of found 292 shootings worldwide, not just the United States. Only 91 of Lankford’s mass shootings during the period took place in the US.

Capellan’s and Jiao cite Lankford for their numbers; but if they only used his 91 US shootings, then they somehow found 227 mass shootings took place in the next five years; an average of 45.4 per year.

Time Magazine found a small fraction of that number for the 2013-2017 period — 33 total — and average of 6.6 per year (note the similarity to Lankford’s 6.35 average). That includes shootings which would be excluded by the Capellan and Jiao definition, which yields a total of 21, averaging 4.2 per year.

Without being able to see the Capellan and Jiao data, it very much seems as though they mistakenly used Lankford’s complete worldwide mass shooting list.

If this is the case, it could also explain how they may have found actual machine gun shootings. Lankford’s data includes shootings committed by foreign military personnel, an example being the Rwandan soldier who went on a rampage in 1995 killing 14 people and wounding another 19. But you might expect the authors to notice that was in Rwanda and not the United States.

Perhaps someday Capellan will provide the promised data and I will know for sure. Perhaps it will prove accurate, and my knowledge on the topic (and my list) will be expanded.

While this is not a complete deconstruction of the paper, there’s one more thing about the mass shooting weapons used in the study that’s notable.

Handguns are the weapon of choice in mass public shootings. At least one handgun was used in 75 percent of mass public shootings. Handguns are followed by semiautomatic rifles (24%), shotguns (21%) and automatic or “assault” rifles (10%)

They mention handguns, semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, and assault rifles. But what of other types of rifles, such as the bolt-action Remington 700 ADL used by the 1966 University of Texas tower shooter? Or the 1974 Olean High School shooting? The 2006 West Nickel Mines School shooting with a Ruger M77 bolt-action? And the Winchester lever-action rifle used in the Skagit County shooting spree?

Did Capellan and Jiao take the time to note the use of non-firearm weapons (IEDs, knives, etc.), but somehow omit bolt and lever guns?

In truth, while I was primarily hoping to see the machine gun list, I really think all of their data needs to be vetted.


(This article first appeared at The Zelman Partisans. Reprinted with permission.)

comments

  1. In the beginning stages of the holocaust the Germans killed at least 1 million in “mass shootings” if I’m not mistaken. Which is a number that has yet to be topped as far as I’m aware.

    1. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

      You are alluding to the murderous Nazi SS Einsatgruppen or mobile killing squads who followed behind the German Army or Wehrmacht following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 during World War II (1939-1945). However, lets not forget both the murderous Bolshevik Cheka (1917-1918) under Lenin during the Red Terror which followed, and especially the NKVD under Stalin. The Empire of Japan until 1945 were just as brutal, murderous, cruel, and cold blooded as the Nazis and Communists. Regarding the Rockefeller Dynasty The John Birch Society in Appleton, Wisconsin at http://www.jbs.org has long exposed them, and in considerable research, including Standard Oil Company. The 2008 online You Tube video (The Soviet Story) graphically depicts both Nazi SS and Soviet NKVD collaboration prior to June 22, 1941.

    2. avatar MarkPA says:

      It would be interesting to know how many of these Nazi shootings were by:
      – bolt action rifles;
      – (full-fledged) machineguns
      – sub-machineguns.

      Inasmuch as the Nazi victims were trapped in trenches with nowhere to run, I suspect conservation of ammunition indicated that they be shot one-at-a-time by riflemen using standard-issue bolt action rifles.

      Yes, the Nazis had plenty of full-fledged machineguns firing rifle cartridges. But these would have to be set-up in advance, or swiftly, before the prospective victims had a chance to think about running. Yes, they had sub-machineguns. But still, the conservation of ammunition factor would have played a role.

      My personal take is that “mass shootings” really ARE a VERY serious problem; but, that problem has almost NOTHING to do with OUR empirical experience. See the Beslan school siege; or, many of the mass shootings that take place overseas.

      So far, OUR mass shooting incidents have been one-off cases of individuals with a high probability of mental-health issues. They do not constitute anything that has “epidemic” characteristics beyond the limited “copy-cat” effect. The number of such incidents is apt to grow by single-digit percentage points; but what is NOT likely is that this phenomena will suddenly grow exponentially. What we have seen – past tense – is not the source of real worry. It IS what we can FORESEE – future tense.

      What would we do in America if – suddenly, without warning – some faction decided to terrorize us with widespread machinegun attacks in malls, schools or other venues? Nothing prevents such a force (of determined terrorists with outside resources) from importing (or fabricating domestically) all the machineguns they might wish. It’s no longer rocket science.

      We’ve done a pretty effective job (through the Hughes Amendment) of chokeing-off the supply of legal domestic machineguns. But that effort does nothing to prevent smuggling or clandestine domestic manufacturing.

      We’ve also done a pretty effective job of creating GFZs (criminal/crazy/terrorist free-fire zones). It’s this combination that is really our vulnerability.

      American gun owners could – if called-forth by the civil authorities – rush to malls with semi-auto rifles and handguns and start to shoot back. However, there would be a delay of 15 – 30 minutes in our response time at best. That delayed response is too-little/too-late to be effective.

      What WOULD be effective is the elimination of GFZs. If every “sensitive place” were always apt to be populated by an indeterminable number of concealed-carriers then there would be a high probability of several being ready+willing+able to go-down fighting. The machine-gunners attacking the vulnerable crowd would be kept busy defending themselves against .380 shots until the cavalry could arrive to finish them off.

      Such a scenario would still leave countless casualties; but, the number would be substantially reduced if we prepared with a rational policy. GFZs set-us-up for the ideal conditions for another Beslan school siege.

      1. Shall not be infringed means precisely that which was originally written. The government Constitutionally has no business whatsoever dictating what we can or cannot keep and bear. There is plenty of evidence showing that the intent was for the people to be armed as the military. And, as Thomas Jefferson put it, we were intended to be “at all times armed”.

        If we were all armed as intended, then there wouldn’t be any mass shootings at all. For a maniac might very well start shooting, but would be shot down in seconds.

        THAT is what was intended and THAT is the way it still should be. For THAT is the whole intent of a written Constitution. And I don’t give a shit what anyone states to the contrary.

        1. avatar Tired of the bs says:

          Truth

      2. avatar Southern Cross says:

        Historical documentary film I’ve seen show bolt-action rifles and pistols being used. The only mass execution using actual machine guns I heard of was in Czechoslovakia after the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich. The execution was ordered by Heinrich Himmler, who fainted when guns were fired.

      3. avatar WARFAB says:

        Agreed. Random mentally unstable people deciding to shoot up a school or public event is horrible, but a coordinated and planned attack by a terrorist or radical group is something else entirely. I fear it’s not a matter of ‘if’ it happens some time in the future, but when it will happen. Unfortunately the frivolous anti-2A talking points that lock up public debate after these shootings are doing nothing to secure our schools from a seriously planned attack.

  2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    I don’t think propagandists usually want their propaganda vetted.

  3. avatar SiGraybeard says:

    When a paper starts out like this, it’s almost always not worth paying attention to:

    When it comes to mass shootings, the United States is tragically in a class of its own. There are more mass public shootings in the US than in any other country in the world.

    The problem is they’re talking about absolute numbers and not rates. A big country will have more of anything than a small country, whether good or bad. We undoubtedly had far more acts of personal charity than a country with 1/10 or 1/100 the population, but nobody will bring that up.

    The countries with populations that could lead to higher numbers are largely totalitarian dictatorships, and those don’t put out honest statistics. Think China, the former USSR (they claim numbers back to 1966) and India.

    The way that’s phrased says they’re not interested in worthwhile data, just headlines.

    1. avatar Erik Weisz says:

      Except that in absolute numbers, they are also wrong. By a LOT. The U.S. isn’t even close to the top of that list, no matter how you tally up. Look it up – it’s true. There was even a story here on TTAG recently about it. I can’t find it right now but here’s something close: https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/perspective-mass-shootings-are-neither-more-frequent-or-more-deadly-in-america/
      If anyone finds the story with the numbers in it, please post a link.

  4. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

    Interesting but not complete.

  5. avatar strych9 says:

    I’d like to see that data as well.

    Many mass shooting lists I’ve seen contain the Kent State Shooting and other actions that were undertaken by the government and lump them in with actual “public mass shootings”.

    Pretty much all of this is bullshit. “Mass shootings started in the 1960’s” is a crock. Howard Unruh died in 2009. Homeslice just went for a stroll one morning after breakfast in Camden New Jersey and killed 13 people in ~12 minutes with a Luger P-08 with one standard eight round mag that he reloaded from loose ammo in his pockets.

    That was in 1949. And even way back then when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, 13>4 and he did it all in “public” making it a “public mass shooting”.

  6. avatar RGP says:

    They didn’t have the Christmas shootings in Nakatomi Plaza in there so how can they be trusted?

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Second good laugh of the day…👍

  7. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

    Often the data is incomplete or never entered. Case in Point.

    In Akron, Ohio a former mental patient and machine gun collector attempted to kill his son and his family but was killed in the gun battle, since he did not kill anyone that probably never made the statistics.

    A machine gun collector south of Cleveland had his gun stolen and it was used in a killing in Cleveland. I cannot remember if it was one killed or more.

    1. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

      Part 1

      I might also add if machine guns were not so thoroughly vetted they would be used in a lot more crimes than they are now. Proof that extreme vetting does work. Its another good reason to put semi-auto rifles under the same draconian vetting as well because they are so much more deadly than pistols when used in mass shootings.

      And last but not least its a moot point on whether the gun was full auto or semi-auto as both weapons put out a lot of firepower and studies show (especially in combat) that the semi-auto rifle often gets far more hits and killings than the full auto one does. I know Vietnam Vets who told me they seldom put their M16’s on full auto as it was often a waist of ammo and the last thing they wanted to do is run out of ammo during a fire fight.

      So what is your point? Is it that the news media did not get the count right or often lumps semi-auto rifles together with full auto ones? In the last few years I have seen a lot of news media people making a point that it was a semi-auto rifle used in a crime and not a full auto one so at least give them that credit.

      So its simply playing numbers games, the many dead bodies do not know if they were slaughtered with either full auto or semi-auto weapon as the results were the same i.e. immediate death. When you consider the fact that a U.S. M16 can be carried on semi-auto and that some have been deliberately issued only with a 3 round burst and do not have full auto capability then the difference between the U.S. Military weapon and the semi-auto civilian weapon is becoming rather blurred and for all practical matters irrelevant as well because they both put out a hail of gun fire.

      1. avatar Rickster says:

        You are irrelevant, shouldn’t you be out with ‘ Moms demand action ‘ or something ?

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          He’s got a restraining order out against him. You know, standard rapey male feminazi/socialist.

      2. avatar MarkPA says:

        “. . . if machine guns were not so thoroughly vetted they would be used in a lot more crimes than they are now. Proof that extreme vetting does work. Its another good reason to put semi-auto rifles under the same draconian vetting . . .”

        On first impression this reasoning SEEMS rational. But if you think about it for a while, you will recognize the apples/oranges problem.

        Only a relatively few PotG were interested in owning a machinegun (when they could) prior to 1986. Machineguns have their military applications; and, it’s fun to shoot one once (or once-in-a-while). But, few of us can afford to shoot a machine gun regularly. And, we don’t have any use for them other than for a once-in-a-while fun thing to do.

        Had the Hughes Amendment never been adopted there would be more than 175,000 fully-transferable machineguns in America today; but, probably not a significant number of crimes with them. Few of those who went through the trouble of the NFA paperwork would be culprits. Few would be careless about leaving their machineguns lying about where they could be stolen.

        The picture is entirely different for semi-auto guns. They have been freely available in the market for over a century. Most of recent rifle production has probably been semi-auto. Americans would NOT stand for NFA-style vetting, time-delays, $200 taxing of transfer of semi-autos. And, this is to say nothing of the tediousness of maintaining an NFA trust so one’s family and friends could use our semi-autos. Trying to apply an NFA like scheme to semi-autos is a non-starter.

        Moreover, what would it accomplish? Pump-action, lever-action and bolt-action weapons are plenty fast enough to execute a mass shooting. Think of a pump-action shotgun with buckshot in a crowded venue. Even if the legal stock of semi-autos were substantially controlled, the crazies would simply use other actions or shotguns to as-severe or worse effect.

        I see no substitute for shooting-back.

        1. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

          “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””Americans would NOT stand for NFA-style vetting, time-delays, $200 taxing of transfer of semi-autos””””””””””””””””””

          Get used to it as that will happen if you get really lucky. More is likely they will be confiscated and melted down.

          And they do not have to be all registered to start off with. They would be grandfathered but you would not be able to sell them unless you went through a class 3 dealer.

        2. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

          I might add extreme vetting has worked very well in other countries. Japan has one of the toughest and even though they do indeed own rifles and shotguns they do not have the mass shootings we do.

        3. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Precisely what would stop me from selling them without an Class 3 FFL? Don’t be an idiot. I’ve probably sold a dozen guns in my life, haven’t gone through an FFL yet, and never plan to. Such laws are completely unenforceable.

    2. avatar Leighton says:

      So memorable you can’t remember?
      Kinda proved the point. RARE!
      Perhaps there are shootings and killings by actual full auto weapons…. but they are never recovered or seized or proven. Possible.
      You know the press would be all over them if they happened.
      Would it happen more if true machine guns were owned by millions? Yeah… odds are it would.

      1. avatar moreadventuresonotherplanets says:

        Yea sure and next you will tell me you remember every detail of your life too.

    3. avatar Tired of the bs says:

      Bullshit! Names, dates please . Never happened

    4. avatar Ing says:

      Of course it didn’t make the list, genius. It’s a list of KILLINGS, not a list of sad sacks who only flailed around and died.

      If it ever happened at all…but hey, you’re a paragon of truth and objectivity, even if you ‘re still waiting for the wizard behind the curtain to hand you a brain, so I’ll trust you on that part.

  8. avatar Leighton says:

    And how many were gang or otherwise crime related? Robbery….kidnapping…etc?
    Breakdowns by sex and age and race?
    Yeah…. not as big a deal as people make it out to be.
    People will always commit crimes. Including murders. The tools may change… people not so much.

  9. avatar Pray Hard says:

    As you whinge about mass shootings in the US, islam continues its terror attacks all over the world, averaging 5-6 terror attacks per day, averaging about five deaths each.

  10. avatar D says:

    The FACT is that the greatest number of deaths in mass shooting in the world is in the hand of governments, many of which were exterminating their own citizens, which proves the need for the 2nd A

  11. avatar Jim from LI says:

    Why do the numbers add up to 130%?

    1. Because multiple weapons are sometimes used in a single incident. Like the Santa Fe school shooting where he used a shotgun and a revolver. There’s overlap.

  12. avatar Leighton says:

    In this digital age if they can’t attach the data or provide a link immediately…. probably does not exist.

  13. avatar BigNick says:

    I might be wrong, but I believe there was a mass shooting in California where the shooter had a full auto uzi years ago. I’ll try to find it.

    1. avatar Chicken Wing says:

      The McDonald’s shooting right? Not sure if those were full auto though.

    2. The San Ysidro Uzi was reportedly the semi-automatic Uzi Carbine.

      ETA: Yes. Specifically the semi-auto Uzi Model A Carbine in 9mm.

      1. avatar Chicken Wing says:

        He had that and a Beretta right? I remember it from when I was a kid.
        I’ve seen and heard plenty of full auto weapons in California but the types that have that gear don’t match up with mass shooter demographics.

        1. Browning HP, 9mm
          Uzi Model A Carbine, 9mm
          Winchester 1200 shotgun, 12ga

  14. avatar rt66paul says:

    California is a very hard place to have an automatic firearm. Since most are totally against the law, how could anyone use on in this state? (sarc)

  15. avatar MacDaddy says:

    They are also inflating the numbers by including non-firearms in their “shooting” statistic: “In addition to firearms, 15 percent of perpetrators obtained non-firearm weapons such as Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs), knives, and blunt objects, among others”. Guess it doesn’t sound as anti-gun if you say “Mass Public Killings”. Without the source data to back up their numbers, this is just another piece of false information. Though I’m sure every anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment politician will be spouting this from their soap boxes to the masses – this country wouldn’t be in such a mess if more people took the time to vet what they read and hear, instead of blindly accepting it.

  16. avatar CliffG says:

    They could go the Bellesiles route and say the library that had all the original data burnt down. Recent scholarship indicates that fully half of all research papers are inadequately sourced or had numbers fudged to match the conclusion. In some “sciences”, i.e nutrition, their are perhaps zero studies that meet scientific rigor. Since they have not responded with immediate links to their research, it may simply indicate you pointed out their error and they really don’t want to admit their entire study should be thrown in the garbage. Might I suggest you append Phd. to your emails along with a Harvard email address?

    1. avatar hoosier_grand_daddy says:

      Actually in the Bellesiles case, it was found that the records had been destroyed by fire BEFORE he claimed to have consulted them! I guess he read his results in the smoke.

  17. avatar Ark says:

    “If they did so, that’s a rather large problem. Lankford’s now debunked list of found 292 shootings worldwide, not just the United States. Only 91 of Lankford’s mass shootings during the period took place in the US.”

    The lie goes halfway around the world before the truth puts on its shoes.

  18. avatar GS650G says:

    Another worthless paper that claims disarming all of us will make us safer.

  19. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    The college educated can just as easily lie as a person with no formal education can. A graduation certificate means nothing. Its very sad that the Academy has destroyed the reputation of an honest college education.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      Just as easily, but much more effectively — they’ve had a lot more training.

      Plus, for some reason, academic credentials still confer automatic credibility. Anyone who’s spent significant time among them knows it’s bogus, yet it persists.

  20. avatar Bemused Berseker says:

    As my Grandfathers told me: Figures don’t lie, but Liars figure. Statistical reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. There’ simply too many factors involved to try to lump it all together. How many fully automatic weapons at Ruby Ridge? Waco? Oh wait, we don’t count those, because it was the “good” guys who had the full autos. Sophistry!

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Waco was good clean fun! First off, nobody would disclose just what the religious compound supposedly did, to be so attacked. Then, we heard a lot about how Koresh was having sex with little girls, without any mention of how that involved the ATF. Finally, IIRC after the killing was long since complete, we finally heard that some people claimed they heard guns being fired really fast, so the ATF moved in to kill dozens of men, women, and children by burning them to death while armed with machine guns and hiding in fucking no-shit TANKS, for gods sake, and voila’, we really do have a criminal use of machine guns in a mass murder event. And still, no one has gone to prison.

  21. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    Some local law enforcement organizations have full auto (M16s). The little information I have seen about it suggests they are reserved for select few LEOs (Swat?).

    What is the possibility the “Institute” included some Swat activities to bulk up their statistics?

  22. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    Some nut killing his family and then himself/herself should be included in the same category as some nut shooting up a rock concert. The first nut would probably use a knife if no gun was available.

    1. The FBI, for example, separates mass shootings for a reason: motivation.

      A drug-dealing gang shooting up a rival drug-dealing gang over sales turf is financially motivated. The shooting is — maybe poorly — targeted. One can hope to address those killings through normal law enforcement.

      That differs from a “lone” weirdo deciding to shoot random audience members at a country music festival.

      Domestic violence killings in the home get excluded because, again, the target isn’t random.

  23. avatar Ronald West says:

    No that is what the lefty want the public to believe, they cover their assets by not enforcing the laws, and letting hard criminal run free in place of carrying out the punishment our forefathers enacted for crimes, nowadays they locker up, give them more rights then the public has. Costing the honest lawabidding people millions of dollars in taxes monthly, which could be used to better the needs of America’s people.

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