A Study of Public Mass Shootings, and More from CRS

03.21.13 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Over the past thirty years, dozens of indiscriminate mass shootings in America have resulted in 547 deaths and an additional 476 injured victims, according to a new tabulation by the Congressional Research Service.

The new CRS report examines the phenomenon of mass shootings, like the December 2012 incident in Newtown, CT, and considers potential policy lessons for law enforcement, public health, and education.

The first step is to define the topic.  CRS says that public mass shootings occur “in relatively public places, involving four or more deaths–not including the shooter(s)–and gunmen who select victims somewhat indiscriminately.” Furthermore, the violence is not calculated to advance any political agenda or criminal scheme.

Using these criteria, CRS identified 78 public mass shootings that have occurred in the United States since 1983 resulting in 547 non-perpetrator deaths.

To place that figure in context, the CRS report notes the much larger dimensions of gun violence generally.  “It is important to caution the reader that, while tragic and shocking, public mass shootings account for few of the murders related to firearms that occur annually in the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, the Bureau), in 2011, firearms were used to murder 8,583 people.”

The CRS report reviews a variety of remedial policy steps that could conceivably be taken to address public mass shootings.

But in a remarkable and telling omission, the report foregoes any discussion of potential restrictions on gun ownership or possession.  “This report does not discuss gun control and does not systematically address the broader issue of gun violence,” the report states in italics. See Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Policy Implications, March 18, 2013.

The state of human rights in China and the ability of Congress to influence Chinese human rights policy are the subject of another new CRS report.

The report finds that “Ongoing human rights problems include excessive use of force by public security forces, unlawful detention, torture of detainees, arbitrary use of state security laws against political dissidents and ethnic groups, coercive family planning practices, persecution of unsanctioned religious activity, state control of information, and mistreatment of North Korean refugees.”

On the other hand, the CRS report said, “Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, which are to go into effect in 2013, reportedly provide for greater protections against torture and coerced confessions, expanded access to legal defense, longer trial deliberations, mandatory appellate hearings, more rigorous judicial review, and greater government oversight of the legal process.” See Human Rights in China and U.S. Policy: Issues for the 113th Congress, March 15, 2013.

An assessment of judicial reforms in Mexico and congressional efforts to support them are discussed in another new CRS report.

“Reforming Mexico’s often corrupt and inefficient criminal justice system is widely regarded as crucial for combating criminality, strengthening the rule of law, and better protecting citizen security and human rights in the country. Congress has provided significant support to help Mexico reform its justice system in order to make current anticrime efforts more effective and to strengthen the system over the long term.” See Supporting Criminal Justice System Reform in Mexico: The U.S. Role, March 18, 2013.

Other brand new CRS reports that Congress has withheld from broad public release include the following.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), March 18, 2013

Financial Condition of Depository Banks, March 18, 2013

Noteworthy updates of previously issued reports include these:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress, March 19, 2013

U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, March 19, 2013

Publishing Scientific Papers with Potential Security Risks: Issues for Congress, March 18, 2013