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‘There’s no epidemic of mass shootings. There is an epidemic of fear.’

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Women pay theirs respects at a memorial in honor of the victims of the shootings in Atlanta, where eight people were killed the week before, during a candle vigil in Monterrey Park, Calif., late Saturday, March 27, 2021. The shootings at three Georgia massage parlors and spas that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent, come on the heels of a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans since the coronavirus entered the United States. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

In the United States, mass shootings have never garnered as much attention as they have over the last decade. From the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 to the Atlanta spa shootings this past March, incidents of gun violence involving multiple casualties are now accompanied by endless media coverage and analysis, suggesting that such violence is occurring more frequently than ever before. 

But are mass shootings involving four or more fatalities on the rise in America?

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University and an international expert on mass murder, says there’s been little change in frequency over the last few decades, with about two dozen occurring per year on average. 

Polling and survey data shows that people in the U.S. are increasingly fearful of mass shootings—a perception that Fox, through his research and writings, has been trying to counter for years. Three-quarters of U.S. adults in one recent survey, for example, said they are stressed out by mass shootings, with one-third saying their fear of such shootings causes them to avoid certain public places and events. Another survey found that nearly half of U.S. residents fear being the victim of a mass shooting. 

This widespread fear has far outgrown the actual threat posed by public mass killings, Fox says. While these public killings are, by their very nature, terrifying—particularly when they involve the indiscriminate slaughter of people in places like supermarkets, movie theaters, concerts or restaurants—they are still quite rare, Fox says. 

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