Skip to content

Homicides in US dropped by 12% in 2023, but country set a record for mass shootings, expert says

The unprecedented 39 mass shootings included 10 in public settings, says James Alan Fox, a Northeastern professor.

A person in a crowd holds a candle at a vigil at night.
People gather at a vigil for the victims of Wednesday’s mass shootings, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Multiple people were shot inside an Iowa high school on Thursday in what authorities fear could become the first mass shooting of 2024.

The year 2023 established tragic highs for gun violence, according to James Alan Fox, a Northeastern professor.

Last year there was a U.S. record of 39 mass shootings with at least four victim fatalities, says Fox, a criminologist who has studied mass killings for more than four decades. 

“We’re still talking about a small number of cases,” says Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern. “The previous record for mass shootings was 36 (set in 2022). So we are talking about the actions of three additional assailants.”

Fox says that 10 of those mass shootings were carried out in public settings, which is another American record. These are the kind of incidents that engender tremendous levels of fear, he notes.

Head shot 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

The devastating events included the October shootings in Lewiston, Maine, by a 40-year-old man with a semi-automatic rifle. That attack claimed 18 lives and wounded an additional 13 people, making it the 10th-deadliest mass shooting in recorded U.S. history.

About half of all mass shootings occur in private homes, says Fox, most commonly in the form of murder-suicides involving family members. Fox says the escalation of public mass shootings was driven by a variety of factors, including economic hardship and entrenched political division in the U.S.

“There were three or four more public mass shootings than we’ve typically had in the past,” Fox says. “When they happen, they impact not just the victims and their families — the community and the whole nation are also impacted.”

Overall, homicides in the U.S. dropped by an estimated 12% in 2023 — a decline that Fox had predicted three years ago when the U.S. was experiencing a 30% rise in murders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fox presides over the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database, the longest-running and most extensive data source on the subject. According to the database, there were 42 mass killings in the U.S. in 2023, the second-highest total over the past 18 years.

The database includes every mass killing since 2006 from all weapons in which four or more people, excluding the offender, were killed within a 24-hour time frame. The database also contains dozens of variables on each incident, offender, victim and weapon.

Northeastern Global News, in your inbox.

Sign up for NGN’s daily newsletter for news, discovery and analysis from around the world.

At year’s end the database had recorded 574 mass killings since 2006, claiming 2,989 lives.

Fox says that no mass killing was categorized as a hate crime in 2023.

“This is not unusual: Hate crimes that result in mass killings average out to just under one a year,” Fox says, while adding that a significant number of homicides overall continue to be driven by hate.

In the absence of meaningful change, Fox anticipates the numbers of mass shootings and killings will remain high in 2024.

“This year will likely be about the same as last year,” Fox says. “I don’t expect a big jump and I don’t expect a big decline.”