Do mass shootings occur more often in France, Switzerland and Finland than in the United States?

By William Ton, James Lane and Louise Evans

The Statement

“Mass shootings are happening throughout the world and America is not high up the list. You’ve got France, Switzerland, Finland. These are countries that are very high in mass shootings and happens more often in those countries than what does in America.”

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. August 5, 2019.

The Analysis

Two mass shootings within 13 hours left at least 31 people dead and more than 50 injured in two cities in the United States. On August 3, 2019, a 21-year-old gunman killed at least 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. On August 4, a 24-year-old gunman killed at least nine people in Dayton, Ohio. [1]

One Nation leader and senator Pauline Hanson told Nine Network’s Today show everyone should speak out against extremists in the aftermath of the US shootings. She compared the United States’ gun laws to Australia, stating the US laws were “very loose” and urged investigations into why “angry young men” were committing these crimes. [2]

AAP FactCheck examined Senator Hanson’s claim that mass shootings happen more often in France, Switzerland and Finland than in the United States.

Senator Hanson’s claim that France, Switzerland and Finland have more mass shootings than the US appears to be based on research from the Crime Prevention Research Centre (CPRC). The CPRC states, “our goal is to provide an objective and accurate scientific evaluation of both the costs and benefits of gun ownership as well as policing activities”. A 2015 CPRC report stated the US had a lower frequency of mass public shootings than European countries based on a per capita basis in that country, or the number of mass shootings per one million people in each country. According to CPRC report, the frequency of mass public shootings per million people in the US was 0.078 which placed it 12th in the world on this measure. France had a mass shooting frequency rate of 0.092, placing it 11th. Finland was seventh with a frequency rate of 0.184. Switzerland was fourth with a rate of 0.249. The top ranking nations by this measure were Macedonia, followed by Albania and Serbia. [3] [4]

Based on 2018 population data from the World Bank, the US has 327 million people and almost five times more than France with a population of 67 million. Finland had 5.5 million people and Switzerland has a population of 8.5 million. [5]

In her claim Senator Hanson did not refer to the frequency of mass shootings per capita in each country. She used the term “happens more often” which refers to the number or incidences of mass shootings.

According to the RAND Gun Policy in America Initiative, there is no official definition as to what constitutes a mass shooting. Media organisations reporting on mass shootings generally accept the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) definition of mass murderer as someone who “kills four or more people in a single incident (not including himself), typically in a single location”. The RAND Corporation states it is a public policy research organisation. [6]

According to data from US investigative magazine Mother Jones, which has been updated since the Ohio and Texas shootings, there had been a total of 951 fatalities from 114 mass shootings in the United States since 1982. In 2019 so far, there have been seven mass shootings resulting in at least 59 deaths. [7]

Mother Jones classifies a mass shooting as a perpetrator taking at least four lives. In 2013, the US government revised this down to three fatalities and this figure was adopted by Mother Jones research. Other criteria include killings carried out by a lone shooter and in a public place, crimes primarily related to gang activity or armed robbery were not included, nor were mass killings that took place in private homes. Perpetrators who died or were wounded during the attack are not included in the victim tallies. It also included a handful of cases, also known as “spree killings” where the event took place over multiple locations but still fits the criteria. [8]

AAP FactCheck used this same criteria to analyse mass shooting events in the three European countries Senator Hanson cited ie France, Switzerland and Finland. AAP FactCheck found that all three countries had a vastly lower number of mass shootings compared to the US. From 2012-2019 France had seven mass shootings, Switzerland had one in 2001 and Finland suffered four between 2000 and 2019. The US by comparison had 59 mass shootings from 2012-2019 and since 2000, there have been 83 mass shootings in America.

Here’s the breakdown of AAP FactCheck’s analysis comparing the number of mass shootings in the US, with France, Switzerland and Finland.

France

France experienced two mass shootings in 2012 with 11 people killed. In one event seven people were killed in the cities of Toulouse and Montauban. In the second, four people were killed near Lake Annecy in the French Alps. The US experienced seven mass shootings in 2012 in which 71 people were killed. [7] [9] [10]

In 2015, France experienced three mass shootings killing 147 people. The Charlie Hebdo shootings killed 13, a second attack at a Paris supermarket killed four and a third event 130 people were killed in Paris across five locations. In 2015, the US experienced seven mass shootings with 46 fatalities recorded. [7] [9]

In 2018, France experienced two mass shootings and a total of 10 deaths. In the cities of Trebes and Cacassonne five people died. In December another five people died in a shooting at a Christmas market in Strasbourg. In the US in 2018, there were 12 mass shootings with 80 people killed. [7] [11] [12]

Switzerland

There have been no mass shootings in Switzerland since 2001 when 14 people died after a man stormed the local parliament in the city of Zug, before killing himself. [13] [14]

The US had one mass shooting in 2001 when a disgruntled employee attacked his former workplace in Illinois, resulting in five fatalities. Since that 2001 attack, the US has experienced another 82 mass shootings through to 2019, resulting in 689 deaths. [7]

Finland

There have been four mass shootings in Finland from 2000 to 2019. There were two school shootings in 2007 and 2008 - which resulted in 18 fatalities according to a 2016 publication, Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities by Jaclyn Schildkraut of the State University of New York and H. Jaymi Elsass of Texas State University. In December 2009 in Finland, five people were killed in a shopping centre shooting in the city of Espoo. In December 2016, three people died in a shooting in the town of Imatra. [15] [16] [17] [18]

Since 2000, there have been 83 mass shootings in the US resulting in 696 fatalities. [7]

Based on this evidence, AAP FactCheck found Senator Hanson’s claim is false. Only when mass shooting data is measured on a per capita basis for each country can the One Nation leader claim other European countries out rank the US. However she stated in her claim that mass shootings “happens more often” which refers to the number or incidence of mass shootings.

The Verdict

  • False - The checkable claim is false.

The References

1: ‘At least 31 killed in US weekend mass shootings’, by Meg Wagner, Elise Hammond, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha. CNN. August 5, 2019: https://edition.cnn.com/us/live-news/el-paso-dayton-shootings-august-2019/index.html

2: ‘One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’. Today Show, Nine Network. August 5, 2019: https://twitter.com/TheTodayShow/status/1158120522913157120

3: ‘UPDATED: Comparing Death Rates from Mass Public Shootings and Mass Public Violence in the US and Europe’, by John Lott, Crime Prevention Research Center. June 23, 2015: https://crimeresearch.org/2015/06/comparing-death-rates-from-mass-public-shootings-in-the-us-and-europe/

4: ‘About/Board of Academic Advisors’, Crime Prevention Research Center. 2019: 'https://crimeresearch.org/about-us/

5:‘Countries and Economies’, World Bank (Finland, France, Switzerland and United States). 2019: https://data.worldbank.org/country

6: ‘Mass Shootings: Definitions and Trends’. Gun Policy in America. March 2, 2018: https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/essays/mass-shootings.html

7: ‘US Mass Shootings, 1982-2019: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation’, by Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen and Deanna Pan. Mother Jones. August 4, 2019: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/

8: ‘A Guide to Mass Shootings in America’, by Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen and Deanna Pan. Mother Jones. August 4, 2019: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map/

9: ‘Timeline: Attacks in France’. BBC News. July 26, 2016: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33288542

10: ‘Alps murders: Compensation 'could take years to settle'’. BBC News. July 2, 2018: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-surrey-44684054

11: ‘Strasbourg shooting: What we know’. BBC News. December 16, 2018: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46535862

12: ‘France indicts three over Trèbes supermarket terror attack’, France 24. October 20, 2018: https://www.france24.com/en/20181020-three-people-indicted-france-connection-march-terrorist-attack-islamic-state

13: ‘Is Barack Obama correct that mass killings don't happen in other countries?’, by Keely Herring and Louis Jacobson. Politifact. June 22, 2015: https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/22/barack-obama/barack-obama-correct-mass-killings-dont-happen-oth/

14: ‘Switzerland has a stunningly high rate of gun ownership - here's why it doesn't have mass shootings’, by Hilary Brueck. Business Insider Australia. February 27, 2018: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/switzerland-gun-laws-rates-of-gun-deaths-2018-2?r=US&IR=T

15: ‘Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities’, by Jaclyn Schildkraut and H. Jaymi Elsass. ABC-CLIO: https://www.gq.com/story/americas-mass-shooting-republican-rule

16: ‘America’s Mass Shooting Epidemic Is The Result of Republican Minority Rule’, by Mari Uyehara. GQ. August 2019: https://www.gq.com/story/americas-mass-shooting-republican-rule

17: ‘Five dead in Finland after gunman goes on shopping centre rampage’, by Adam Gabbatt and agencies. The Guardian. January 1, 2010: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/31/helsinki-shopping-centre-shooting

18: ‘Finland shooting: three women killed outside Imatra restaurant’, by Hannah Summers and agencies. The Guardian. December 5, 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/04/three-women-shot-dead-outside-restaurant-finland

  • First published August 7, 2019 14:43 AEST