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The Backstory: We've been tracking mass killings since 2006. Most happen at home.

The Backstory: We've been tracking mass killings since 2006. Most happen at home.

Domestic violence mass killings are the most common, but don't get the same attention as public mass shootings. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

The Backstory
Friday, May 28
Two people are pictured hugging on Wednesday near the shooting scene in San Jose, California. According to authorities, an employee opened fire at a railyard serving Silicon Valley, killing multiple people before taking his own life.
We've been tracking mass killings since 2006. Most happen at home.
Domestic violence mass killings are the most common, but don't get the same attention as public mass shootings.

I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was visibly frustrated.

He was addressing the press Wednesday afternoon after a mass shooting at a Northern California light rail yard. The gunman killed eight people before taking his own life. A ninth died late Wednesday.

Newsom said he felt a "sameness" and "numbness" in the wake of yet another mass shooting.

'It begs the damn question: What the hell is going on in the United States of America?' Newsom said. 'We rinse and repeat someplace else in this country.'

He's right. There are on average 30 mass killings each year, according to the mass killings database USA TODAY manages along with Northeastern University and The Associated Press.

But the majority of the mass killings involve domestic violence; they aren't public events like the tragic shooting in San Jose.

Our database tracks all "mass killings" as defined by FBI as four or more killed, excluding the killer(s), within a 24-hour time frame. Using that definition, 2,431 people have been killed in 460 mass killings by 575 offenders since 2006.

Our database records all mass killings, not just those involving a gun. On average, two dozen mass killings involve guns every year. From those, an average of about five happen in a public place.

The majority of mass killings happen in private, at a home, involving family members. Since 2006, 319 out of 460 mass killings (69%) have taken place in a residence or other shelter; 506 out of 575 killers were men, 38 were female and 31 were unknown.

"These people tend to be paranoid and they tend to blame others for what happens to them," said Karina Zaiets, USA TODAY's graphics reporter for the project. "They're facing uncertain financial issues. And then there is a trigger, commonly it's the loss of a relationship, that has them plan out a mass killing."

Graphics editor Mitchell Thorson said that's a 'sad but interesting' finding of our database: that domestic violence mass killings are the most common but don't get the same attention as public mass shootings. 

"It becomes obvious very quickly after you look at this data, how consistent and unchanging this is," he said, "a fairly steady trickle of just constant death and violence and carnage.

"The fact is you look at the map (of these killings), and it's basically a population map. Anywhere there's people, basically you have mass killings. Most victims know the person who ends up killing them, and the most common type of location where these happen is actually private homes and residences."

His other takeaway? "It's just the consistency and the fact that there's really been nothing that has really changed the trajectory of this issue whatsoever over the last 15 years."

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University and our partner on the mass killings database, hopes that the data helps manage the fright around mass shootings. 

"There was a survey (in 2019) where 25% of Americans believed that mass shootings were responsible for the most gun deaths, more than suicide, more than accidental shootings, more than all homicides other than mass shootings, which obviously is wrong, because mass shootings in terms of victims claim about 1% of homicides," he said.

"So yes, these are the ones that drive the debate whenever the discussion about gun control (comes up after) mass shootings, even though that's the tip of a very large iceberg. There are about 11,000 gun homicides a year."

Fox has been studying mass killings for four decades. And he has ideas on solutions. He's in favor of universal background checks, along with bans on gun magazines capable of holding large amounts of bullets. His research has found that states that have bans on large-capacity magazines have significantly lower rates of public mass shootings.

And he's in favor of more mental health services, but as a good idea for everyone who needs help, not just to deter killers, many of whom have no history of mental illness.

He believes gun control measures will do more to curb the 11,000 gun homicides a year than the five or so public mass killings. 

"In terms of mass shootings, most of these individuals are highly motivated, bent on revenge, determined to kill. They will likely find the weapon they need, regardless of what hurdles we put in their path," Fox said. "We should put the hurdle there, because it may impact one or two, but it's not going to significantly change the landscape because they are so determined."

Right now, our database is used for reporting and research by the partner organizations. Later this year, our plan is to make it public so you can see and analyze the data, too.

"I think that the more real data we can (provide) to the public, they will be able to make  better policy and better political decisions," said Javier Zarracina, USA TODAY's director of graphics. 

"Because what we are having in the conversation is a lot of talking points and a lot of slogans and a lot of assumptions, but not so much data."

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Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Reach her at or follow her on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our  print edition, ad-free experience or electronic newspaper replica here. 


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