By Chris Adams
Whenever Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox is asked about mass shootings in recent years, it’s a question like this: “How come these things are happening now, and they weren’t before?”
“Well,” Fox answers, “they were.”
Fox (bio, Twitter) is one of the nation’s leading experts on mass shootings, as well as serial killers, and he has been tracking such multiple murders for years. Despite widespread worries about active shooters and other mass killings, there actually hasn’t been a substantial increase in them.
“What there is is an epidemic of fear,” Fox said. He pointed to an Ipsos/USA Today poll from 2019 that said 21% of Americans skipped public events where there would be a lot of people, out of fear of mass shootings. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, also in 2019, said that six people in 10 fear a mass shooting in their community.
Fox went over the numbers on mass shootings, including detailing methodological problems with some commonly cited sources. Some databases are based on media coverage, and shootings coverage from earlier eras is often incomplete. There have been major mass killings in recent years, but even with those spikes the overall numbers – whether talking about incidents or victims, incidents with three or more, or four or more, or six or more – is relatively flat.
That holds true even when it comes to the highly emotional specter of school shootings. Despite the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the overall school shootings trend over the past 25 years has been down.
“Schools are safe – safer than they used to be,” he said. “And for some kids, they are the safest places they’ll be.”
Fox also gave his assessment of the coverage of the shootings, including his criticism of the media’s seeming need to always label something a record, as well as the inclination to over-publicize shooters by labeling their rants as “manifestos” and turning them into celebrities.