In a year of pain, one silver lining: fewer mass shootings

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FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, the Molson Coors facility is seen in Milwaukee. An employee at the historic Molson Coors facility shot and killed five co-workers Wednesday afternoon and then turned the gun on himself. Six people, including the shooter, were killed on Feb. 26, 2020 at the facility. If there's one silver lining in a year marred by a deadly pandemic, civil unrest, and economic and political turmoil, it's this: The number of mass shootings that happened in public was the lowest in more than a decade. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

If there's one silver lining in a year marred by a deadly pandemic, civil unrest, and economic and political turmoil, it's this: The number of mass shootings that happened in public was the lowest in more than a decade.

Experts who research mass killings say there are two key reasons for the sharp drop-off. For one, most people avoided going out in public during coronavirus lockdowns, which meant fewer opportunities for slayings in workplaces or schools. For another, Americans were so focused on other tragedies that would-be gunmen were less likely to consider carrying out attacks.

A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings — defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter — back to 2006 showed just two public mass shootings this year. Both happened before the lockdowns took hold.

The first mass shooting of the year was on Feb. 26, when an employee at a brewery in Milwaukee killed five co-workers before killing himself. The other occurred on March 15, when a man killed four people in Springfield, Missouri, before killing himself.

Since then? Not one.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University, said he hopes the lull will help break the cycle of the past few years and help tamp down on mass shootings. The so-called “contagion effect” suggests that the more we hear about and talk about mass slayings, the more gunmen fixate on carrying out attacks.

At the same time, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, people who might otherwise feel compelled to wreak such carnage may not feel quite as persecuted or alone in experiencing hardships, he said.

“The thing about mass shooters is they tend to be people who feel that they are the victims of injustice. Well, lots of people now are suffering, not just them," Fox said. “It’s hard to say right now that your own plight is unique or unfair. It may not feel good, but there’s certainly reason for it. And it’s not because of something someone’s doing to you. It’s really the pandemic, which is a thing not a person.”