One of the most controversial subjects in the United States is gun control. Americans are split on the issue. It’s something that connects deeply with politics, culture, and history; dividing the nation more than the majority of other issues.
The topic always comes sharply into focus in the wake of yet another mass shooting. Should assault-style weapons be banned? (42% of Americans say yes). Should a national gun sales database be established? (57% say yes). Should all gun sales require a background check? (80% say yes). The debates are reignited, the arguments intensify, and yet no consensus is ever reached. No action is ever taken.
Let’s think back to the truly shocking Columbine school shooting back in 1999. It was, and remains, perhaps the most high-profile gun massacre in US history. Since then, a further 20+ such mass shootings have occurred in the country in which 10 or more people lost their lives (with countless more totalling under 10 fatalities).
If we use The Gun Violence Archive’s definition of ‘mass killing’ to mean any incident in which three or more people (excluding the perpetrator) are shot and killed in the same incident and location, the US sees 11 such events a week.
Below we have documented the eight shocking events that make up the United States’ worst gun massacres since Columbine.
1. Las Vegas, 2017 (60 killed)
The gunfire lasted for approximately 15 minutes. By the time it had finished, 60 attendees of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas had suffered fatal bullet wounds. A further 867 were seriously injured, with 411 of those hit by gunfire.
When a Las Vegas SWAT team kicked in the door of gunman Stephen Paddock's 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, he had already turned a gun on himself.
In just a quarter of an hour, with his cache of semi-automatic rifles, bolt-action rifle, and revolver, Paddock had carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
2. Pulse nightclub, 2016 (49 killed)
Just a year before the Vegas shooting event, 49 lives were tragically ended at a gay nightclub in Orlando called Pulse.
It soon became clear from communications with the shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, that the motivation was political, and the attack was soon designated as being terrorist in nature. Mateen claimed allegiance to ISIS. At the time it was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in American history.
3. Virginia Tech, 2007 (32 killed)
The United States experienced a full eight years of major gun massacre peace between Columbine and the next major mass shooting, Virginia Tech. On 16th April 2007, however, that streak was ended.
Two separate attacks by Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean undergrad, at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, saw 32 students killed. An additional 17 were shot but survived.
4. Sandy Hook, 2012 (27 killed)
Six teachers and 20 pupils at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered on 14th December 2012. The children were all aged between six and seven years old.
It later transpired that the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, had also shot and killed his mother before carrying out the devastating school attack.
5. Sutherland Springs church, 2017 (26 killed)
In November of 2017, the tiny town of Sutherland Springs became home to Texas’ deadliest mass shooting in history.
During a Sunday morning service, a gunman - Devin Patrick Kelley - strode into the church wearing tactical gear and a black facemask, wielding a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle. He then opened fire, dispensing approximately 700 rounds during the 11-minute-long shooting.
With 27 people dead and a further 22 injured, a local man - former firearms instructor Stephen Willeford - approached the church armed with an AR-15 and began shooting at Kelley. A firefight ensued in which Kelley was clipped twice. He escaped in his truck, pursued by Willeford. The car chase ended when Kelley veered off the road and shot himself in the head.
6. El Paso Walmart, 2019 (23 killed)
On 3rd August 2019, 21-year-old Patrick Wood Crusius walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, carrying a WASR-10 AK-47–style semi-automatic rifle. Opening fire, he killed 23 people and injured another 23. His motive? Hispanophobia. Crusius drove a full 650 miles to El Paso in order to target his victim profile.
Crusius is a rare example of a mass shooter who survived the incident, giving himself up rather than ending his life at the scene or being killed by police respondents. He pleaded not guilty and the trial has since been delayed due to the pandemic and the huge masses of evidence and complexity of the case.
7. Robb Elementary School, 2022 (21 killed)
The worst school shooting atrocity since Sandy Hook, the Uvalde massacre occurred at Robb Elementary School in Texas. 19 students, all aged between eight and 10, and two teachers were murdered.
18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos had begun his day by shooting his grandmother in the forehead, severely wounding her. He then drove to the school with his Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 AR-15 style rifle and opened fire.
8. Parkland, 2018 (17 killed)
19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the city of Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day 2018. He opened fire on both students and staff. Within minutes he had murdered 17 people and injured 17 others.
Until the Robb Elementary School massacre of 2022, it was the worst school shooting in US history. Sadly, these kinds of records keep getting broken.