Assault weapons are one-third as common but twice as deadly as handguns in mass shootings

Grocery Store Tragedy

DENVER – SEPTEMBER 13: A Colt AR-15, now legal with a bayonet mount, flash suppressor, collapsible stock and a high capacity magazine that holds more than 30 rounds, sits on the counter of Dave’s Guns September 13, 2004 in Denver, Colorado. Between 1994 and September 13, 2004 these guns could only be sold to law enforcement and military but now it is legal for civilians to purchase them due to the expiration of the Brady Bill. (Photo by Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)

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DENVER (KDVR) — Assault weapons are less prevalent in mass shootings than handguns but do more damage.

Semiautomatic handguns are three times as common as assault weapons in mass shootings and therefore have resulted in a higher total body count from 1982-2021. Meanwhile, the shootings involving assault weapons have higher rates of fatalities and injuries per incident.

Data Desk uses the definition of mass shooting involving random targets in a public setting unrelated to crime. Between 1982 and 2021, there have been 126 such shootings. Certain high-profile shootings such as the Beltway sniper incident were not included due to the length of time that killer was active.

It also defines “assault weapon” along broad regulatory features common in the seven states where they are banned, including high capacity detachable magazines, collapsible stocks, pistol grips and barrel shrouds. The Ruger AR-556 pistol allegedly used in the shooting meets this definition.

Assault weapons are only present in a fraction of mass shootings.

Half of mass shootings use only one type of weapon, most commonly a semiautomatic handgun. The other half are a combination of handguns, rifles and shotguns of varying functional differences.

Shooters had assault weapons in 28% of mass shootings, or 35 incidents. Shooters used assault weapons as their sole weapon in only 15 incidents, or 12% of mass shootings.

Semiautomatic handguns are more common. They were used in 67% of mass shootings, and the sole weapon used in 40% of mass shootings. If taken together with revolvers, handguns are used in 86% of mass shootings.

Since semiautomatic handguns are more common than other weapons types, they have produced the most deaths.

Shootings where semiautomatic handguns were the only weapon produced 351 deaths, while assault weapon-only shootings produced 201.

Assault weapons have produced more injuries in total. Shootings where assault weapons were the sole weapon have produced 1,017 injuries – half of which come from the single incident of the Las Vegas massacre in 2017.

Semiautomatic handguns alone produced 244 injuries.

In total, all shootings involving assault weapons have killed fewer people than those that did not. There have been 427 fatalities in shootings involving assault rifles and 599 fatalities not involving them.

All shootings with assault weapons have produced three times as many injuries, though – 1,304 for shootings with assault weapons and 476 not involving them.

Per shooting, assault weapons claim more lives and produce more injuries.

The average incident involving an assault weapon produces 39.5 deaths – nearly eight times as many as the 5.3 deaths caused by incidents without assault weapons.

The injury rate in assault weapon-related incidents is about twice that of incidents without them – 12.2 for assault weapons-related shootings and 5.3 injuries for shootings without them.

Shootings where assault rifles were the only weapon involved are twice as deadly as semiautomatic handgun shootings, and almost 10 times as injurious.

Shootings with assault weapons alone produced 13.4 deaths and 72.64 injuries per incident. Shootings with semiautomatic weapons alone produced 7.1 deaths and 8.8 injuries.

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