Public Mass Shootings Around the World: Prevalence, Context, and Prevention

By Jason R. Silva
This research was supported (in part) by funds from a Summer Stipend from the Research Center for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at William Paterson University.

In the aftermath of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, there has been extensive media coverage, public concern, and calls for action surrounding public mass shootings in the United States. Recent attacks, including the Suzano School shooting in Brazil (2019), the Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand (2019), and the Izhevsk School shooting in Russia (2022), illustrate that public mass shootings are not just a national but a global phenomenon. It is critical to shed light on this problem and develop a more informed worldwide discourse about mass shootings.

Global Prevalence of Public Mass Shooting Incidents

Concern over mass shootings largely stems from especially deadly attacks involving indiscriminate victims. To this end, scholars often focus on public1 (and completed2) mass shootings. There has been some debate over the rate of mass shootings in other parts of the world. For instance, one study found countries in Western Asia, Northern and Southern Africa, and South America often had high rates of mass shootings. However, this study includes incidents involving organized terrorism and battles over sovereignty, and these types of attacks diverge from traditional definitions and conceptualizations of public mass shootings in the United States.

When keeping with the traditional public mass shooting definition, researchers have found the United States has experienced a higher number of public mass shootings compared to any other nation worldwide—far exceeding its proportionate share based on the size of its population. Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium member Adam Lankford found, for example, that despite making up less than 5 percent of the global population, the United States has experienced 31 percent of global public mass shootings.

According to my previously developed Global Mass Shooting Database, countries with high numbers of public mass shootings include Russia, Yemen, the Philippines, and Uganda; however, these numbers still pale in comparison to the United States.3 In other words, no matter the definition used in the previous debate over the rates of global mass shootings, all studies have found countries with high numbers of public mass shootings are often dissimilar from the United States. While there is obvious value in large-scale global comparisons of incident prevalence, it is worth comparing the prevalence of public mass shootings in countries that are more economically and politically similar to the United States.

Public Mass Shootings in Countries Similar to the United States

There were 109 public mass shootings in the United States and 35 public mass shootings in 35 other economically and politically comparative countries between 2000 and 2022.4 The United States makes up 33 percent of the combined population of these 36 countries; however, it also accounts for 76 percent of public mass shooting incidents and 70 percent of victim fatalities in these countries. In other words, the rate of incidents and fatalities in the United States is especially high when compared to similar countries.

The United States makes up 33 percent of the combined population of these 36 countries; however, it also accounts for 76 percent of public mass shooting incidents and 70 percent of victim fatalities in these countries.

Four comparison countries had more than two public mass shootings over this 23-year period: France, Germany, Canada, and Finland (see Figure 1). All mass shootings in Canada occurred more recently (after 2010), while Finland was one of only two countries (of the 16 measured countries that have had public mass shootings) that had no shootings after 2010, possibly offering useful insight for strategies to prevent public mass shootings.5 When excluding the United States, France had the most public mass shootings,6 although Germany’s experience is likewise concerning as four of the 10 deadliest shootings occurred in the country.

Contextualizing the Problem

The extensive research and public concern focused on American public mass shootings is unsurprising given that the United States has experienced more of these attacks in number than any other country in the world. Still, public mass shootings in the 35 comparison countries similar to the United States have also increased and the rise in attacks across countries emphasizes the need for further consideration of the phenomenon as a whole. The number of attacks has more than doubled from 2000–10 to 2011–22, and the greatest number of incidents occurred in 2019 and 2020. Eight of the comparison countries had their first public mass shooting incident after 2010, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway. This illuminates a concerning prospect raised in recent research: the potential globalization of American public mass shootings. In other words, as American media and entertainment culture continue to be exported to foreign countries, it appears to be accompanied by the idolization of American mass shooters as well as international contagion and copycat effects.

While there are a multitude of factors contributing to these attacks, studies find the higher rate of public mass shootings in America is associated, at least in part, with less restrictive firearm laws and higher rates of civilian firearm ownership relative to many other countries. Take, for example, China and Japan. China had three public mass shootings and Japan had no incidents between 2000 and 2022, despite having some of the largest populations. These low rates are likely because China and Japan have some of the strictest gun control measures in the world.

Still, public mass shootings in the 35 comparison countries similar to the United States have also increased and the rise in attacks across countries emphasizes the need for further consideration of the phenomenon as a whole. The number of attacks has more than doubled from 2000–10 to 2011–22, and the greatest number of incidents occurred in 2019 and 2020.

Of importance to note, China and Japan in turn have had higher rates of public mass stabbings. This suggests that deeply troubled and isolated individuals, who violently lash out and attempt to kill indiscriminate victims, exist around the world. To this end, there is a concern that restricting firearm access will not fully prevent mass murder, and if policymakers enact responsible firearm legislation, those driven to engage in attacks will simply turn to other weapons. However, while perpetrators using either firearms or knives may aim to incur high victim counts, stabbing attacks are often much less deadly than shooting attacks. My research has found that between 2000 and 2022, there have been 52 public mass shootings involving 10 or more fatalities worldwide, while there have only been five public mass stabbings with this especially high fatality count. Take for example, two attacks that occurred on the same day in 2012: the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the United States, which involved 27 casualties (fatalities and injuries), and the Chenpeng Village Primary School stabbing in China, which involved 24 casualties. While the Sandy Hook shooting resulted in 26 fatalities and one injury, all 24 Chenpeng Village stabbing victims survived.

Strategies for Global Prevention and Harm Mitigation

Research illustrates opportunities for public mass shooting prevention and harm mitigation. One oft-discussed avenue has been the implementation of gun legislation, such as assault weapons bans. Many of the deadliest global public mass shootings—such as the attacks in Norway, New Zealand, and Canada—involve “assault” rifles.7 These three nations subsequently took action by implementing bans on assault weapons. While it is important to recognize that most public mass shootings involve handguns, bans on assault weapons could potentially help decrease the number of fatalities during future attacks. In the United States, research has also identified other gun legislation efforts associated with significant reductions in the incidence of fatal mass shootings including handgun purchaser licensing laws and bans on large-capacity magazines.

Another option may be extreme risk protection orders, which can provide important restrictions when risks of violence are high. While a relatively newer policy, preliminary research on the use of extreme risk protection orders for preventing mass shootings is already showing positive results. They are commonly served based on explicit and imminent threats of violence and allow for firearms already possessed by these individuals to be seized by law enforcement; in some instances, they also prohibit new firearm sales as well. This emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing potential offenders’ warning signs. Leakage, which is defined as any verbal or written intent by an individual to do harm, is a critical warning sign that can be used to foil a mass shooting plot. Individuals who have close relationships with a potential mass shooter (such as family members, partners, and colleagues) are better positioned to identify leakage—much more so than mental health professionals and law enforcement, as these authorities typically only become aware of the threat after it has been reported.

Advancing law enforcement responses can also help reduce the number of victim casualties. After Columbine, police agencies in the United States began creating new protocols focused on rapid responses to ensure the isolation, distraction, and neutralization of a shooter. Given the rarity of public mass shootings in many countries around the world, research suggests police may sometimes be ill-prepared for an attack and delayed in their response. When an incident does happen, the offender can exploit their country’s lack of readiness, leading to a higher number of victims. The advancements in American law enforcement techniques can therefore offer potential insight for many countries around the world.

Situational crime prevention efforts can also mitigate opportunity in an environment, thereby reducing casualties and giving officers more time to arrive on the scene. Examples include door locks, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, bullet-proof windows and walls, lockdown drills, and trained law enforcement personnel on the scene. Previous research and efforts for using situational crime prevention in the United States have largely focused on school locations. The most common attack locations for global public mass shootings, however, include commerce, government, and open-area spaces.

Future research should further consider the factors associated with countries without a public mass shooting at the turn of the century. This can provide insight into countries like the United States, Russia, France, Germany, and Canada, which have experienced a number of attacks. For instance, why have countries like Japan and Iceland, as well as 18 other countries in the European Union, not had an attack? Ultimately, there is still much to be learned about how we can understand and address this global phenomenon.


Jason R. Silva is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at William Paterson University and a member of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Silva developed the Global Mass Shooting Database to understand and compare perpetrators and incidents, as well as strategies for prevention and harm mitigation. His findings on global mass shootings have been featured in scholarly journals including Homicide Studies, Global Crime, and International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, as well as media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, and USA Today

[1] Public mass shootings are incidents in a public or populated location involving at least some victims who were targeted at random and/or for their symbolic value. Public attacks exclude a family or felony mass shooting, as well as incidents involving state-sponsored violence, battles over sovereignty, or organized terrorism. While these other attacks are equally tragic to public incidents, they are inherently different forms of the phenomenon.

[2] Completed mass shootings are incidents involving four or more victim fatalities. Large-scale global examinations often use the completed criteria to avoid missing cases, which can skew comparisons across countries.

[3] The number of public mass shootings in each of these countries between 2000 and 2022 included 21 in Russia, 9 in Yemen, 8 in the Philippines, and 8 in Uganda.

[4] These comparative countries similar to the United States are drawn from the United Nations’ criteria for “developed countries.”

[5] After the three incidents in Finland, the Finnish government issued new firearm guidelines for handguns and revolvers, which were the primary firearms during these attacks. Applicants for handgun licenses must now be active gun club members and vetted by their doctor and law enforcement.

[6] This data excludes the January 2015 and November 2015 shootings in France, which were perpetrated by organized terrorist groups.

[7] The term “assault weapons” commonly refers to semiautomatic or automatic firearms.