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Guest Post: Facts Behaving Badly: The FBI Prevented 148 Mass Shootings Last Year

(Today's guest post is by John Mikolajczyk. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Everyone has an opinion on mass shootings, their causes, and their solutions. Among the endless sea of opinions on the subject, the belief that mass shootings are a common occurrence, increasing in frequency, and becoming more deadly, is perhaps one of the most widely held. Despite, as oft cited criminologist Dr. James Alan Fox (who specializes in mass murder) has said on multiple occasions, it not being true.

(For the purposes of this article, I will be defining a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more fatalities occur, although multiple definitions for “mass shooting” exist, most articles referenced here seem to use to this criteria.)

Capitalizing on this misguided belief, Attorney General Eric Holder was proud to announce during a lecture to a group of police chiefs in December of 2013, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had “prevented” 148 mass shootings and “other violent attacks” from January through November of that year and “hundreds” of attacks had been disrupted since the inception of it’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center in 2011.

That is quite the claim, considering the same man practically debunked his own statement a month earlier when in another speech to police chiefs he said there were an average of five “active shooting” incidents per year from 2000 to 2008. Adding that the annual average of “active shooting” incidents had tripled since then. An “active shooting,” as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, is a mass shooting or an attempted mass shooting (i.e. the Clackamas Town Center incident).

So before the FBI’s “Behavioral Threat Assessment Center” program began in 2011, there were five incidents a year, with no outside intervention taking place. Now, with FBI intervention stepping in, there are three times as many incidents a year in addition to 148 thwarted attacks in just 11 months? These numbers don’t reconcile.

How exactly does the Behavioral Threat Assessment Center prevent scores of mass shootings?

First, cases of “troubling behavior” (e.g. “bizarre behavior” coupled with an interest in firearms) are referred to the center by “federal, state, local and campus law enforcement, schools, businesses, and houses of worship.” Then center staff, composed of government law enforcement personnel and psychiatrists, evaluate the potential threat and sanction a course of action for how to proceed. However, Andre Simmons, the unit chief of the center, admits that most often the recommendation is merely a referral for mental health treatment.

Essentially, the FBI runs a mental health treatment referral center, distinguishable from the countless volunteer and state-run referral centers around the country only in that it is funded and staffed by US government personnel.

Also consider that we live in the age of “zero tolerance policies” in the American school system, where a doodle drawn by a bored tween can attract local law enforcement attention. In light of this and the current climate of fear (over the erroneous belief in mass shooting frequency mentioned earlier), it is easy to see how the FBI’s assessment center has been getting three new cases to consider every week.

Then again, all things considered, 148 mass shootings prevented sounds much better for the government law enforcement community than 148 mentally ill persons referred for treatment, right? But most likely this isn’t true.

John Mikolajczyk is currently an office administrator with a government healthcare agency and a part-time bookseller. He graduated in the top 10% of his class from Kean University with degrees in criminology and history. While at Kean, he was a standout Air Force ROTC cadet and student activist. He also received an award for “best undergraduate term paper” for his treatise on the theoretical costs of the Trojan War. In his spare time he enjoys reading, playing video games, creative writing, hiking, and walking his golden labrador.

three comments

I absolutely love this post. Great debunking work.

Also seems right in line with National Security agencies over-estimating their success rate.


While we were emailing about this post, John used the term “CNN effect” and I think mass shootings, like terrorism are perfect examples of this. I then called it, “Threat Inflation”, which is how the national security state makes its money. Remember, last year more 750,000 people died of malaria; hardly that many died of terrorism.


It is impossible to measure the utility of security-related activities comprehensively. You cannot determine the value of the deterrence effect, for example.

The only adequate approach is trial an error. The problem nowadays is that after but one spectacular hit everybody seems to shy away from giving “less” a try for a change, so the beast just keeps growing and mutating.

It’s a systematic failure in budgeting.
The cure would be to allow the craze to cool down (or to crowd it out with something else).