FBI: US ‘active shooter’ incidents jumped by 52 percent in 2021

The numbers were released days after a gunman killed 10 in a in a racist attack in Buffalo, New York.

Active shooter
Police evacuate people near the scene of an active shooter in Washington, DC, in April [Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press]

There were 61 “active shooter” incidents in the United States in 2021, according to newly released FBI data – a 52 percent increase from the previous year and the highest on record.

Last year’s attack spread across 30 states, leaving 103 people dead and 140 wounded, the report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said on Monday.

In contrast, the department counted 40 active-shooter attacks in 19 states in 2020 that killed 38 people and wounded 126. That year coincided with the height of restrictions on social and economic life due to the coronavirus pandemic. The FBI had recorded 31 such incidents in 2017, and 30 in both 2018 and 2019.

The department defines an “active shooter” as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public space in a seemingly random fashion. About one in five “active shooter” incidents in 2021 were also mass killings.

The report was released just over a week after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. The racist attack drew attention to increasingly mainstream white supremacy ideology and renewed calls for increased federal gun control in the US.

The incidents counted in the FBI report included the killing of 10 by a gunman at the Kings Soopers Grocery Store in Boulder, Colorado, in March 2021; an attack on three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, that same month that killed eight; and an attack on a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana in April of that year that also killed eight.

The attackers ranged in age from 12 to 67 years old and were predominantly male, with only one incident involving a female shooter.

The report also identified an emerging trend of “roving active shooters”, in which an attacker targets more than one location. Roughly 27 of the recorded incidents in 2021 fell into that category, according to the data.

Still, despite the spike in incidents, the 2021 active-shooter death toll ranked only seventh-highest since 2000, the first year for which FBI figures are available.

The highest figure was recorded in 2017 when 143 people were killed and 591 wounded in just 31 individual incidents. The high casualty is the result of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, when a gunman opened fire from a hotel room overlooking a crowded concert, killing 60 people and wounding 411.

The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit tracker, has recorded 211 mass shootings in just the first five months of 2022 alone.

Excluded from the data were also gang or drug-related shootings, incidents defined strictly as domestic disputes, isolated hostage situations or crossfire from other criminal acts, the FBI said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies