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Mass shootings in the U.S.: legality of shooter's weapons, as of February 2020

82 of the mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and February 2020 involved weapons which were obtained legally; a clear majority. Only 16 incidents involved guns that were obtained illegally.

Legally owned firearms in the U.S.

Within the United States, one must be at least 18 years old in order to purchase shotguns, rifles, and ammunition, and at least 21 years old to purchase all other firearms. Some people may be restricted from owning firearms, such as individuals who have been dishonorably discharged from the military or tourists. Guns must be sold through licensed dealers, and purchasers must undergo a background check. However, the much-discussed “gun show loophole” allows people to purchase firearms from a flea market, gun show, online, or from a personal collector without a background check.

The national firearm conversation

The right to own a gun in the United States is protected by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. While changing a part of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) would be extremely difficult, the issue of gun rights has become a highly controversial, and highly partisan, topic in the national conversation. For example, a majority of Republicans believe that if legal gun ownership is controlled, that there will not be a difference in the number of mass shootings. In contrast, most Democrats believe the number will decrease.

Number of mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and February 2020, by legality of shooter's weapons

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Release date

February 2020


United States

Survey time period

1982 to February 26, 2020

Supplementary notes

*The source reports 117 incidents. Not included in this statistic is the legality of the weapons in the ESL shooting in Sunnyvale, California on February 16, 1988. In this case, the shooter had passed federal criminal background checks. However, the US Air Force failed to provide information on his criminal history to the FBI

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Statistics on "Firearms in the United States"

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