Mass Shootings


The Center for Disaster Philanthropy does not include mass shootings of any kind in its taxonomy of disasters, nor do we respond or provide resources for mass shootings or other acts of public violence. However, due to numerous requests for information, below is some basic information on mass shootings to help funders impacted by an event in their community.

There is no commonly agreed-upon term to define a mass shooting, only “mass killing,” which Congress defines as three or more people killed in a single incident, not including the perpetrator. The Gun Violence Archive builds on that definition to define a mass shooting as “four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter.”

Although all mass shootings are criminal acts, there are multiple kinds of shootings, which account for the different numbers reported.

The Gun Violence Archive does not exclude any shooting incident, as long as it meets the total number shot or killed. The circumstances in which they were shot, therefore, does not matter. As a result, their numbers tend to be higher than other lists, which is also true because they include victims and not just fatalities.

According to Guns & America, “The FBI does not use ‘mass shooting’ but rather tracks active shooter incidents. They exclude drug or gang violence and ‘accidental discharges of a gun.’ It says an ‘active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.’”

The initiative also “defines these incidents as the shooting of two or more people in a single incident, in a public place. This definition excludes crimes of armed robbery, gang violence, or domestic violence, focusing on cases in which the motive appears to be indiscriminate mass murder.” This is similar to the Mother Jones definition, except the magazine considers four victims rather than two.

Another area of confusion is school shootings. Although some trackers include any shooting that occurs on a school campus, the Government Accountability Office narrowed the definition to focus on “instances where students or staff were at risk [and] defined a school shooting as ‘any time a gun is fired on school grounds, on a bus, during a school event, during school hours, or right before or after school.’ This definition, therefore, would exclude suicides in a parking lot or a gang incident in a school playground on the weekend.

Key Facts

  • Mass shootings account for less than 1% of all firearm deaths. This statistic from 2009-2019 would be higher if mass shootings related to domestic violence are included in that number.
  • In 2019, there were 418 shootings with four or more victims, shot or killed. This is according to data tracked by the Gun Violence Archive.
  • Shootings have a negative economic outcome. A study by the Urban Institute on shootings in Washington, D.C., found that “Every 10 additional gunshots in a census tract each year is associated with 20 fewer jobs among new establishments, one less new business opening, and one more business closing the same year.”
  • Gun suicides – made possible by lack of gun control – result in more suicides in rural areas compared to urban areas. Guns & America says, “Firearms are the most common method of suicide and suicide accounts for the vast majority of gun deaths in this country. More than 24,000 Americans died by firearm suicide in 2018, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Studies from Everytown for Gun Safety and CDC found that rural suicides have increased disproportionately compared to urban suicide rates.
  • Active shooters are just one of several public attack methods. According to Ready.Gov, potential attacks in crowded and public spaces include, “Individuals using firearms to cause mass casualties; individuals using a vehicle to cause mass casualties; individuals using homemade bombs to cause mass casualties and other methods of mass attacks may include knives, fires, drones or other weapons.”
  • Victims of crime compensation programs distribute billions of dollars annually. Federally funded through the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crimes (OVC) and state-administered, this fund is available to support victims of several kinds of violent crimes, including mass shootings. The spending limit was capped at around $500 million (serving 200,000 people) for several years but expanded in 2014 when the fund grew to more than $10 billion. From 2015-2019, compensation amounts ranged from $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion a year. The 2019 appropriation cap was $3.35 billion. According to OVC, money for these programs come from “criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Federal revenues deposited into the Fund also come from gifts, donations, and bequests by private parties, as provided by an amendment to VOCA through the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 that went into effect in 2002. Since 2002, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been deposited into the Fund through this provision.” This revenue varies from year to year. In 2017, two billion-dollar fines, including $2.8 from Volkswagen for an emissions cheating scandal, increased the fund to $13 billion, but in 2018 only $445 million was added to the fund and $4.5 billion spent.
  • Gun control helps reduce mass shootings. Although there is no perfect solution to ending gun violence, research has shown that when gun control laws are stricter, there are fewer mass shootings. Some gun control advocacy groups grew out of tragic shootings such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Violence in America, which was founded in the wake of Sandy Hook. Moms Demand Action “is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families.”
  • Response to a mass shooting typically includes government, individual and philanthropic support. For example, after the Pulse Orlando shooting, CDP and Candid “identified 55 institutional pledges and transactions totaling $7.5 million in response to the tragedy” in its Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy report. “Twenty-six were directed to Strengthen Orlando, a Florida-based nonprofit affiliated with the OneOrlando Fund, created by Mayor Buddy Dyer in response to the shooting. The OneOrlando Fund focused its grantmaking on survivors and victims’ families and distributed a total of $31.7 million. Fifty-five percent (30 pledges/transactions) came from corporations, either through their corporate giving programs or their foundations. The two largest gifts were $1 million each: The Walt Disney Company Contributions Program and the NBCUniversal Contributions Program both announced gifts to the OneOrlando Fund. The U.S. Department of Justice also committed $8.5 million to assist victims, witnesses, and first responders; the grant was distributed through the Florida Office of the Attorney General’s Department of Legal Affairs.”

How to Help

In the U.S., the federal government has several resources to support victims of mass shootings. This financial support usually comes through OVC, a component of the Office of Justice Programs at the DOJ, as opposed to FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security as is standard with disasters.

Funders do have a role within their community if they wish to support response to a mass shooting. They can manage one or more funds for victims or first responders, support trauma-informed and supportive services, advocate around gun control and engage in community education.

  • Host a fund for victims. Many people want to make donations after a tragedy but do not know where to give. Often, individual funds are started on platforms such as GoFundMe. Still, a coordinated fund through a local or community foundation can help ensure an equitable and fair process for fund distribution. Depending upon the tragedy, there may be a need to support a fund for first responders who witness the violence or aftermath.
  • Fund mental health and trauma services. A mass shooting in a community can affect more than just those in attendance at the school, the event or the location where the shooting occurred. The broader community can also be affected. Broad, wide-ranging mental health and trauma-informed services are often required for several years to help heal the community.
  • Support advocacy efforts for gun control. In the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the families of those killed formed Sandy Hook Promise. This national nonprofit organization seeks “to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. By empowering youth to ‘know the signs’ and uniting all people who value the protection of children, we can take meaningful actions in schools, homes, and communities to prevent gun violence and stop the tragic loss of life.” Similarly, following the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, the teen victims and students created the #NeverAgain hashtag and began a social media and speaking advocacy campaign to prevent more school shootings. Everytown for Gun Safety has a number of research-based policy initiatives and solutions that can reduce gun violence, including mass shootings, domestic violence shootings, crime-based killings, accidental shootings and suicides.
  • Help build a collaboration of funders. After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, several philanthropic serving organizations including, but not limited to, the United Philanthropy Forum, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, Change Philanthropy, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Native Americans in Philanthropy and Women’s Funding Network co-sponsored teleconferences to bring together national and regional funders and foundations that wanted to contribute to a response. By taking on the responsibility to organizing and host the events, these organizations allowed local funders affected by the shooting to focus on their community’s immediate needs. This funding and work should be directed towards supporting the larger community needs, not individual victims.
  • Contribute to the victims of crimes fund federally or to similar state/local funds. The spending cap is determined by the amount of revenue put into the fund. Donations can help ensure that victims receive full support after a mass shooting.

What Funders Are Doing

Government support is usually available to victims of mass shootings, including the families of those deceased, people who are shot and people in/at the location but not shot. Crime victim compensation is a federally-funded and state-administered program.

According to the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards, “Compensation programs can pay for a wide variety of expenses and losses related to criminal injury and homicide. Beyond medical care, mental health treatment, funerals, and lost wages, a number of programs also cover crime-scene cleanup, travel costs to receive treatment, moving expenses, and the cost of housekeeping and child care if a victim is unable to perform those tasks. And states continue to work with victims and advocates to find new ways to help victims with more of the costs of recovery. … Maximum benefits available from the states average $25,000, with some states able to offer more, and some states having lower limits.  Lower caps within the maximum are common for some types of benefits, like funeral and burial costs, mental health counseling, or lost wages.”

The Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) set up a Conejo Valley Victims Fund after the Thousand Oaks shooting on November 7, 2018. VCCF did this in coordination with the City of Thousand Oaks, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Amgen Foundation, California Community Foundation and other funders. The Fund developed a protocol so that 100% of the funds went towards assisting the families of the victims who were killed or physically injured and those present inside the Borderline Bar & Grill that tragic night. The Conejo Valley Victims Fund’s payments are based on the severity of the injury to the victims.

The Contigo Fund was established in the aftermath of the Pulse Orlando shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub. Under the umbrella of Our Fund Foundation, a nonprofit LGBTQ philanthropic organization, Contigo’s mission is to fund, strengthen and empower existing agencies and emerging ones working to improve the lives of LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants and people of color in Central Florida. Unlike the Conejo Valley Victims Fund, Contigo funds organizations working on healing and empowerment, leadership development, bridge-building, racial/social/gender justice and work led by women/trans/gender-expansive/intersex leaders and youth. They focus on Central Florida’s diverse communities, especially building connections between LGBTQ, Latinx, Muslim, Immigrant and Black communities.

The OneOrlando Fund was used to bring together various funds, together with the National Compassion Fund, to allocate funding to four groups of people: individuals killed as a result of the Pulse Nightclub attack, individuals who were injured and had to spent at least one night in hospital, injured parties treated within 48 hours as an outpatient and individuals who were present but not injured.

In 2019, the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust made a $5,000 grant to the Trauma Intervention Program of Northern Nevada, Inc. TIP is a national nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to ensuring that those who are emotionally traumatized in emergency situations receive the assistance they need. TIP Northern Nevada has responded to the shootings at Sparks Middle School, Renown Medical Campus, Carson City IHOP and Hug High School.

In 2017, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga made a $1,500 grant to the American Red Cross to support Nevada Shootings and California Wildfires.

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(Photo: Alex Radelich on Unsplash)