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Guns used in mass shootings in the U.S. 1982-2020

Handguns are the most common weapon type used in mass shootings in the United States, with a total of 143 different handguns being used in 95 incidents between 1982 and February 2020. These figures are calculated from a total of 118 reported cases over this period, meaning handguns are involved in over 80 percent of mass shootings.

The involvement of semi-automatic rifles in mass shootings

Owing to their use in several high-profile mass shootings, there has been much public discussion over suitability or necessity of assault weapons for the purpose of self-defense. While any definition of assault weapon is contentious, semi-automatic rifles are generally the main focus of debates around this issue. Since 1985 there has been a known total 47 mass shootings involving rifles, mostly semi-automatics. This figure is underreported though, as it excludes the multiple semi-automatic (and fully automatic) rifles used in the 2017 Las Vegas Strip massacre – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, killing 58 and wounding 546. In fact, semi-automatic rifles were featured in four of the five deadliest mass shootings, being used in the Orlando nightclub massacre, Sandy Hook Elementary massacre and Texas First Baptist Church massacre.

Mass shootings and gun control

Despite evidence of strict gun control measures reducing the frequency and severity of mass shootings in countries like Australia, citizens in the United States remain deeply divided over the issue. According to a survey about the expected impact of gun laws on the number of mass shootings, a slim majority of Americans believe that gun control measures will have little-to-no effect. Most likely, this opinion is influenced by an underlying commitment among many in the U.S. to the greater importance of protecting gun ownership rights than limiting access to firearms. This sits in sharp contrast to many other developed countries. For example, most Canadians support a ban on civilian owned firearms.

Weapon types used in mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and February 2020, by number of weapons and incidents

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Release date

February 2020


United States

Survey time period

1982 to February 26, 2020

Supplementary notes

Handguns includes pistols, revolvers, derringers and other unspecified semi-automatic handguns.

Rifles includes non-automatic, semi-automatic, and illegally modified rifles.

*Firearms used in the Las Vegas Strip massacre are not included as a result of unspecific data. There were 23 firearms used, most of which were rifles, however no more specific information is available in the source.

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Statistics on "Crime in the United States"

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