Lessons from the FBI’s 2023 Active Shooter Report

Lessons from the FBI’s 2023 Active Shooter Report
July 2, 2024 sdcpm
Active Shooter Report Lessons - TorchStone Global

Lessons from the FBI’s 2023 Active Shooter Report

By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart

This week the FBI released their report on Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2023. The report, which is produced in collaboration with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, examines the incidents that occurred during the year in an effort to identify trends in attack location, shooter identity, target, day and time, weapon(s) used, and engagement or intervention by law enforcement and others.

The FBI defines an active shooter incident as one in which there are “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” From all the shootings reported across the U.S. in 2023, the FBI identified 48 cases that meet their definition of an active shooter incident.

Notably, the FBI excludes shooting cases in which gang or drug-related violence was involved, residential or domestic disputes, shootings occurring during the commission of another crime, along with a few other types of cases. If they included those other cases, the number of incidents in the report would be significantly higher.

The 48 incidents included in the report resulted in 244 casualties —139 people wounded and 105 killed. 15 of the incidents met the federal definition of a “mass killing” which is “three or more killings in a single incident.” The FBI does not include the shooter in its mass killing statistics.

The 48 incidents were committed by 49 individuals, 48 of whom were male, and one was a transgender female who identified as a male. 30 of the shooters were apprehended by law enforcement, 12 were killed by law enforcement, and 7 committed suicide.

28 of the incidents occurred in open spaces, that is open-air locations on public or private land that are open to the public. Such locations include on the street, in a parking lot, or in a park. 10 of the 28 open space incidents occurred on the street, which was the most common location for an active shooter incident in 2023.


First, the 105 people killed in these incidents is very small when compared to the total number of homicides in the U.S. While the final homicide numbers for 2023 are not yet available, they are expected to number somewhere around 18,500 when the final figures are released by the FBI this fall. This means that the deaths from the active shooter events detailed in this report should represent only around one-half of one percent of all the homicides in the U.S.

Even if the report were expanded to include gang and drug-related mass shootings, the number of deaths would still only represent a small percentage of overall homicides. I note this to point out that while active shooter incidents are terrible and deadly, they cause far more fear and apprehension than the actual threat they pose. Indeed, homicide rates today are considerably lower than they were at their historic high in 1980, and yet despite this, people still perceive that they are more in danger of becoming a victim than ever.

Perhaps one reason for the fear and apprehension created by active shooter incidents is that the attacks often seem to be so random. Indeed, in 58% of the active shooter incidents recorded in the FBI report, the shooter had no known connection to the location targeted or any of the victims. It is easier for people to comprehend a gang, drug, or domestic-related shooting than it is a seemingly random attack against a crowd of people at an arbitrary location.

Another reason for the fear is that we live in an age in which people are connected like never before, and in which technology revolutionized the way Americans receive news. In 1980, the year the U.S. homicide was at its historical high, the internet was virtually unheard of, cable TV news was in its infancy, and most people received their news from newspapers and network television.

In 1980, most shooting incidents barely registered a mention in the global news media. It was rare for such an incident to merit more than a few seconds on the nightly news, or a few short paragraphs buried inside the national newspapers.

Furthermore, the news cycle was far longer, and by the time an active shooter incident was reported by the media, it was usually well over, the attacker dead or in custody, and the number of victims known.

By contrast, today, nearly everyone is carrying around a smartphone capable of recording and transmitting photos or videos of incidents, sometimes even as they are occurring. These videos are then uploaded onto social media platforms that allow news of the ongoing incident to be delivered around the globe almost instantly. This allows millions of people around the globe to watch live as horrific active shooter incidents unfold, thus creating countless vicarious victims—and stoking fear.

A Real, Though Limited Threat

But false perceptions and changes in technology and the media aren’t the only things responsible for the heightened sense of fear regarding active shooter incidents. While the overall homicide numbers are down significantly from their historical high, the number of active shooter incidents has steadily increased in recent decades.

Over the past five years, 2019-2023, the FBI designated 229 cases as active shooter incidents. This represented an 89% increase over the 121 active shooter incidents designated over the previous five-year period, 2014-2018. Contrast these numbers with the FBI’s Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, which recorded 160 incidents over 14 years for an average of 11.4 incidents per year.

Even though there is some criticism of the FBI’s definition of an active shooter incident, perhaps justifiably so, when the same criteria are applied to cases over a period of decades, it does allow us to conclude that the number of cases has increased dramatically.

Study 160 Active Shooter Incidents

The FBI is not alone in noting this increase. In 2014 the Congressional Research Service completed a study on mass public shootings from 1970 to 2013. Its researchers defined those attacks as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, in at least one or more public locations, such as a workplace, school, restaurant, house of worship, neighborhood, or other public setting.” The CRS study found that an average of 1.1 public mass shootings per year occurred in the 1970s, 2.7 such incidents per year in the 1980s, 4 incidents per year in the 1990s, 4.1 in the 2000s, and 4.5 from 2010-13.

Perspective and Mitigation

Are active shooter incidents a serious and growing problem? Certainly. Even one deadly active shooter incident is tragic. But are these incidents cause for panic? No. Concern, yes, but not panic. Like any other threat, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the active shooter threat.

  • Public officials, and security managers for businesses, schools, houses of worship, and other public spaces, must continue to increase their ability to proactively detect assailants as they progress through their attack planning cycle. Prevention is always preferable to reaction.
  • Security managers must continue their efforts to deny assailants access to vulnerable groups of potential victims in schools, houses of worship, government buildings, and corporate facilities.
  • Security managers must ensure they have effective active assailant plans in place, and they must continue to train people on the plans so that they know how to react in the event of an active shooter incident.
  • Individuals must take responsibility for their own safety and be prepared to take action in the event an active shooter incident suddenly occurs at their location.

The FBI report statistics reflect that in 2023, there were only two attacks at medical facilities three at educational institutions, and none at houses of worship and government buildings, as opposed to the 28 that occurred in open spaces and 14 at commercial sites (entertainment venues, restaurants, malls bars etc.) The locations where most of these attacks are happening are open to the public and have little or no access control.

In such locations, individuals must rely even more heavily on their own situational awareness and ability to think and act quickly to ensure their safety than when they are in a building with access control. I’d also like to again stress the importance of individuals receiving Stop The Bleed training and carrying first aid equipment—it can literally make the difference between life and death in a crisis situation.

Even though the number of active shooter incidents is growing, and they pose a significant threat to the people affected, fortunately, the number of such incidents remains quite limited. Only a small number of people will ever experience such an incident. That said, it is still prudent for people to be aware of the threat and be prepared for the unlikely eventuality that they become caught up in such an event—but this awareness must not be allowed to generate fear and apprehension. Instead, this awareness should prompt people to practice appropriate situational awareness and prepare them to act immediately when needed.