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U.S. had sharp increase in active shooter incidents last year, according to FBI report

The 103 people killed in active shooter situations in 2021 is the most since 2017, and nearly triple the number in 2020

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Police walk along the perimeter of the scene after a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.

Police walk along the perimeter of the scene after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. Officials said the gunman entered the supermarket with a rifle and opened fire. Investigators believe the man may have been livestreaming the shooting and were looking into whether he had posted a manifesto online.

Joshua Bessex, Associated Press

One day before a gunman killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers in a massacre in Uvalde, Texas, the FBI released an alarming report showing a dramatic increase in “active shooter situations” in 2021.

The 61 incidents mark a 52% increase from 2020, and the 103 fatalities are the most since 2017 — a year with numbers inflated by the 58 people killed by a sniper at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas.

In the report, the FBI defines an active shooter incident as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area,” and specifies that the term “inherently implies the ongoing nature of an incident.”

The report explicitly does not include all gun-related shootings, leaving out those that are the result of self-defense, gang or drug violence, residential or domestic disputes, hostage situations, crossfire as a byproduct of other ongoing criminal acts, or actions that appeared not to have put others in peril.


Tirzah Patterson, former wife of Buffalo shooting victim Heyward Patterson, speaks as her son, Jaques “Jake” Patterson, 12, covers his face during a press conference outside of the Antioch Baptist Church on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Joshua Bessex, Associated Press

Disturbing trends in gun violence

The FBI report highlights an increase in “roving” shooters, or perpetrators who move from place to place to target victims, according to The New York Times. Murders at massage parlors in Atlanta last year fit that category, along with more than two dozen others.

At least 10 of the active shooters in the report were current or former employees who opened fire at their workplace. According to The Guardian, high-profile shootings can have a “copycat effect,” but trends in the number of active shooter incidents do not necessarily mirror overall increases or decreases in gun violence.

While highly visible, active shooter incidents make up a small fraction of gun violence in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 19,384 firearm homicides and 24,292 firearm suicides in 2020.

Since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, more than 311,000 children have been exposed to gun violence in schools, according to The Washington Post.

Other FBI report findings

  • All but one of the perpetrators of active shooter incidents were male. Of the 61 shooters, 30 were apprehended by law enforcement, 14 were killed by law enforcement, 11 committed suicide, four were killed by a civilian and one is still at large.
  • Active shooter incidents occurred in 30 different states. California had six such incidents, and Georgia and Texas each had five. Colorado witnessed four, Nevada and Arizona each had two and Idaho had one. None occurred in Utah.
  • June and April had the most incidents of any month, with 12 and 10 active shooters, respectively. Fourteen situations occurred on Saturdays, and the majority of active shooter situations — 23 — happened between the hours of noon and 5:59 p.m.
  • A plurality of shooters — 18 — were between the ages of 25-34.