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Police near Boston responded to report of an active shooter at a hotel. A Massachusetts Police statement, quoted by The Boston Globe, said one person has a minor injury. Officers are looking for a suspect. Guests and employees were evacuated. (March 26)
AP, AP

The number of active-shooter incidents in the U.S. decreased slightly last year. Then again, it would have been difficult to top the record-setting carnage of 2017.

A new FBI report based on 2018 data reveals there were 27 instances of active shooters – defined by the bureau as one or more persons trying to kill others with a firearm in a populated area – and they resulted in 85 deaths and 128 people getting injured, not all by gunfire.

Most deadly among those events was the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a teenager armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed 17 students and staffers.

While falling short of the bloodshed of 2017 – when 30 incidents led to 138 deaths and 593 wounded, including 58 fatalities at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas – last year’s totals remained consistent with a troubling trend.

In the first seven years since the FBI began producing the report in 2000, there was an average of 6.4 active-shooter incidents, and that figure more than doubled to 16.4 the next seven years. It has been at least in the 20s every year since then, spiking in the last two.

“It’s encouraging that the number of active shooting incidents dropped from an all-time high in 2017, but last year still saw the second-most incidents this century,’’ Kyleanne Hunter, VP of Programs at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told USA TODAY.

“The progress being made at the state level could reverse the trends we’ve seen since 2000, but we have to continue pushing forward to enact common-sense measures such as expanded background checks and banning assault weapons that will keep our communities safe. This can’t be our ‘new normal’ — complacency isn’t an option when lives are literally at stake.”

But the push to curb gun violence is proving an uphill climb, especially when it comes to schools. There were five such episodes last year, including one in May at Santa Fe High south of Houston, where a 17-year-old student brought a shotgun, handgun and explosive devices to school and gunned down 10 people.

In other notorious incidents, a man with anti-Semitic views shot to death 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in late October, and less than two weeks later, 12 people were killed when a man armed with a handgun opened fire at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California.

The 27 active-shooter events spanned 16 states, with California (four) and Florida (three) holding the dubious distinction of leading the pack. And in contrast with 2017, when all 30 instances involved men, women participated in three last year.

At least 26 of the 27 total incidents were carried out by individuals acting alone, with the perpetrator in the other one not being identified. That bolsters the belief held by experts like University of California at Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring that there’s a copycat element to many of these attacks.

Zimring, co-author of the book “The Citizen’s Guide to gun control,’’ said the number of active-shooter incidents and their upward trend are significant developments.

But he warns that the FBI figure, based on the vague notion of shooting in a populated area, is not as meaningful as the tally of casualties.

“The number of events tells you something about media attention,’’ Zimring said. “The number of deaths, and the number of seriously wounded, tells you about the public health cost.’’

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Well, both have been rising in recent years.

There’s no widely accepted definition of a mass shooting, though the FBI defines a “mass murderer’’ as someone who kills at least four persons in one incident. In January 2013, weeks after the Sandy Hook school massacre, Congress defined mass killings as “3 or more killings in a single incident.’’

Based on the latter definition, which excludes gang-related and domestic-dispute incidents because of their different nature, the Mother Jones website tallied 87 mass killings in the U.S. between 1990-2017. Of those, 51 took place from 2008-2017. In that last year alone there were 11.

And even tragedies on the scale of Parkland’s, which engendered national dismay and a youth-led activist movement, have failed to prompt any changes in gun policy at the national level, although they did lead to some state tightening of gun laws.

That’s in contrast to New Zealand, where it took political leaders 26 days to ban semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles after a March 15 shooting rampage by an anti-Muslim zealot left 50 dead at two mosques.

Zimring pointed out the political climate and symbolism of guns in New Zealand, a country of 4.8 million, are vastly different from the U.S. However, he said, that doesn’t mean Americans have become desensitized to mass shootings.

“No, and that won’t happen,’’ Zimring said. “The question is, ‘What can they mobilize?’ and not, “Are they important?’ Yes, they’re important, and they’re important to lots of folks.’’

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