Texas attacks add to record-setting year for US mass shootings

Bouquets of wrapped flowers on a wall in Maine.
Bouquets honored the victims in Lewiston, Maine, site of an October mass shooting that claimed 18 lives in October. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The fatal shooting of four people in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday became the latest contribution to a record-setting year for U.S. mass shootings, according to James Alan Fox, a Northeastern professor who has studied the phenomena for more than four decades.

A 34-year-old man was charged on Wednesday, one day after allegedly firing at four locations in the Texas capital. The suspect may also be involved in two previous deaths near San Antonio, police said.

There have now been 39 mass shootings with at least four victim fatalities in 2023, according to Fox — three more than the U.S. record established last year.

Headshot of James Alan Fox.
James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Additionally, says Fox, the Texas shootings amounted to the 42nd instance of a mass killing this year, leaving the U.S. four tragic events short of eclipsing its 2019 record.

Fox presides over the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database, the longest-running and most extensive data source on the subject. It reveals that 2,989 people have died in 574 mass killings since 2006. 

Fox notes that the current escalation of violence — including the recent shooting deaths of four people in Washington state and stabbings in New York that claimed four lives — may be driven by a variety of factors, including the rising sale of guns, anger and anxiety over world events and an apparent increase in unstructured time for people following the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Fox stops far short of referring to the record-setting pace as an “epidemic.”

“We now have 39 mass shootings in a country of more than 330 million people,” says Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern. “So statistically it is still rare. I’m not sure how one would define ‘epidemic,’ but I wouldn’t classify this as one.”

Fox characterizes mass killings as an unaddressed and devastating problem that is unique to the U.S. among its economic peers.

“I believe in stricter gun laws,” says Fox, “recognizing that half of the guns in this world are in the hands of Americans and that our country has a four-times higher rate of mass shooting than the rest of the world.”

Fox says his research shows that most mass killers are not mentally ill.

“The overwhelming majority of them are angry,” Fox says of mass killers. “And unfortunately it’s far too easy for an angry person, a hateful person, or a resentful person to get a gun. And if they can’t buy it legally, there are certainly many other means for them to acquire one.”

Fox says the ever-increasing public awareness of mass shootings and killings has led to a high level of fear in the U.S.

“The fear is way out of control, it’s way above the risk statistically,” Fox says. “Most of these shootings do not happen in public — most of them are in private residences and about half of them are family-related, which says a lot about family dynamics.

“But then you also have the issue of guns,” Fox adds. “Some states have gone in the direction of tightening up gun restrictions. Unfortunately, some other states have gone in the other direction, of allowing concealed carry of guns without permits.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at i.thomsen@northeastern.edu. Follow him on X/Twitter @IanatNU.