Understanding Gun Violence and Views by Community

by Ari Pinkus November 20, 2023

By the numbers this has been another terrible year of mass shootings in America, with more than 600 so far in 2023, according to the independent nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks these events in nearly real time. On its website, Gun Violence Archive states, “Our definition of gun violence is intended to be fully inclusionary of disparate elements of gun related incidents…. GVA uses a purely statistical threshold to define mass shooting based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter.”

Since the widely-covered mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, that killed 18 people and injured 13 others in late October, news media outlets have presented new angles and insights on this persistent challenge. Consider The New York Times’sArmy Ammunition Plant Is Tied to Mass Shootings Across the U.S,” CNN’s “She led the National School Walkout after the Parkland mass shooting. Then she left America,” Breitbart’s “CNN Claims 525 ‘Mass Shootings’ for 2023 Using Misleading Data,” and The Washington Post’sTerror on Repeat” and companion piece “We spent more than a year examining the AR-15’s role in America. Here’s what we learned.

Now, the American Communities Project homes in on the geographic distribution of mass shootings and how this intersects with issue importance and gun culture in America. The Northeast, Upper Midwest, South, and Southwest were more adversely affected than other areas in 2023, based on GVA statistics. Our analysis shows that more diverse communities had a greater number of mass shootings and made up a greater percentage of the total. Crime or gun violence ranks as a top issue for urban-oriented as well as diverse communities, including the African American South, Big Cities, Urban Suburbs, and College Towns, according to the recent American Communities Project/Ipsos Study.

  • It may be unsurprising that large, diverse, stratified Big City counties, home to 81.2 million people, have seen the most mass shootings in 2023. The number was 242 as of November 12 and accounted for 40% of America's mass shootings.
  • There were 92 mass shootings in the multicultural, more affluent Urban Suburbs, making up 15% of the total. Roughly 70.2 million live in these dense suburbs.
  • There were also 91 in the African American South, accounting for another 15% of the total. This is perhaps the most surprising as African American South counties are much more rural, with 13.1 million residents. Racial diversity is higher with a median Black population of 43%.
  • In College Towns, with many young residents and people of different backgrounds colliding daily, there were 50 mass shootings, accounting for 8% of the total. Nearly 25 million live in these youth bastions.
  • In Hispanic Centers, where more than 17.4 million live and about 53% identify as Hispanic, there were 30 mass shootings, making up 5% of the total.

In our recent survey, African American South communities said crime or gun violence was tied for the top issue in their local community and the No. 1 issue in the nation. African American South residents ranked crime or gun violence far and away the highest of the ACP's 15 types. Some counties saw multiple shootings so far this year. For example, there have been 11 mass shootings in Shelby County, Tennessee, an African American South community that's home to the city of Memphis. There were five in Jefferson County, Alabama, home to Birmingham; and four in Jefferson County, Arkansas.

In the Urban Suburbs, crime or gun violence was a No. 2 issue at the local and national level, while the percentage of residents who rated it a top issue was lower than in the African American South, according to the American Communities Project/Ipsos Study. Again this concern is understandable when digging into the data. Some counties were rocked by multiple events this year. There were six mass shootings in St. Louis County, Missouri, five in Broward County, Florida, including three in Fort Lauderdale and one on Hollywood Beach. Five mass shootings took place in Cincinnati, the largest city in Hamilton County. There were also five in Gilford County, North Carolina.

In the Big Cities, crime or gun violence also came in No. 2 as a national and local issue in the American Communities Project/Ipsos Study. The uptick in crime and gun violence has been widely covered and experienced in these places. Some cities have had many mass shootings from January to mid-November, including 19 in Los Angeles County, California; 18 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania; 10 in Harris County, Texas, home to Houston; and eight in Hennepin, Minnesota, home in Minneapolis.

In the College Towns, crime or gun violence again ranks No. 2 at the local and national levels. College Towns are filled with young and transient residents as well as long-timers. Ten percent of the population is between age 20 and 24, part of Generation Z. Gen Z has been dubbed "the Mass Shooting Generation" because they have grown up with school shootings and active shooter drills. This year so far, there have been four mass shootings in Ingham, Michigan, including a prominent shooting at Michigan State University in February. Three have taken place in Richland County, South Carolina, home to the University of South Carolina and smaller colleges.

While gun violence is a fact of life in many areas, many say the right to own a firearm is crucial to what it means to be an American, according to the American Communities Project/Ipsos Study. The majority of residents in several rural county types — the Aging Farmlands, Evangelical Hubs, Native American Lands, Rural Middle America, and Working Class Country — share this view. However, it is an issue that very much divides Americans; it is the minority view in the community types coping with the effects of gun violence on a regular basis. The varied views and experiences further illustrate the way Americans live in vastly different subcultures within the country.

For some personal views, visit our video of Americans in different counties describing what the Second Amendment means to them.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

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