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Black Americans At Higher Risk of Mass Shootings

High levels of income inequality and segregation mean higher risk of mass shootings, according to a new study.

Mass shootings in the US have more than doubled since 2014, and they disproportionately affect Black Americans.

Photographer: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

By Isabel Webb Carey and Fola Akinnibi.

Mass shootings claim a disproportionate number of Black victims and happen more often in US cities with higher Black populations, suggesting that structural racism may play a role, according to a new study by Tulane University researchers.

Mass shootings, defined by the Gun Violence Archive as incidents where at least four victims are shot, have more than doubled in the US since 2014, to 649 in 2022. The higher a city’s Black population, the more likely it is to experience a mass shooting, according to the research published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery, a medical journal. The study is one of the first to look into the demographics of these events and link them to housing segregation, redlining and other discriminatory housing practices.

Addressing some of these systemic issues could be a tool in stemming the increase in these incidents, the study’s authors said.

“It’s really important from a policy perspective that we think about racial and economic polarization,” said Julia Fleckman, a public health researcher at Tulane and a co-author of the study. “We need to think about robust policies to address structural racism because that might have an impact on violence.”

The findings disrupt the nation’s image of mass shootings, which has been shaped by tragedies like the Las Vegas festival shooting and Sandy Hook in which most of the victims were not Black. They draw attention instead to the more prevalent kinds of mass shooting incidents that don’t get the same attention. For example, on July 16 of this year five people were shot, one fatally, in South Los Angeles. On the same day, a drive-by shooting in Chicago left a 41-year-old mother dead and four others injured, while a similar shooting happened hours before in Dallas.

The study looked at several measures of economic and social inequality in 51 metropolitan areas, and found that mass shootings correlated with places where the segregation rate was high, where there was a high percentage of Black residents, where the gap between rich and poor was very large and where there were higher rates of single-parent households. Those findings suggested to the researchers that housing policies that have historically pushed Black residents to certain neighborhoods, as well as a lack of economic opportunity, could put people at higher risk of mass shootings.

Of the 51 largest metro areas in the US, only Providence, Rhode Island, did not record at least one mass shooting between 2015 and 2019. Over that period, there were nearly 900 incidents, claiming 828 lives and injuring almost 4,000 people, according to the study. Michael Ghio, a surgery resident and the principal author of the study, deals with the outcomes of shootings every day. He sees mass shootings and gun violence as a public health issue, and hopes the study will prompt more research into the impact of mass shootings on Black Americans, calling it the “tip of the iceberg.”

US gun deaths rose 35% in 2020 — exceeding the worst levels recorded in the 1990s. The biggest increase in firearm homicide victims was among Black people, according to Centers for Disease Control data.

There’s a connection between the rise in shootings and a rise in firearm purchases, notes Kelly Sampson, senior counsel and director of racial justice for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. A “culture of fear” leads people to arm themselves, ultimately leading to more violence, she said.

Sampson emphasized the importance of stopping guns from flowing into communities in part by holding the gun industry accountable for guns that flow from legal to illegal markets. There’s also a need for investments in communities, she added.

“For decades people have been working in their own communities to really address gun violence holistically,” she said, referring to community gun violence interruption programs and calls for more equitable distribution of resources. “Too often those programs are under-resourced.”

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