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The Planned Parenthood Shooting Played Out Very Differently Than Most “Active Shooter” Incidents

Robert Lewis Dear, the suspect in the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, is part of a growing trend.

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It's every cop's worst nightmare: An armed suspect has already killed or wounded and is still on the loose, threatening further mayhem. As Colorado Springs mourns its dead, BuzzFeed News looks at the outcomes of these horrific incidents, to see what lessons we can learn.

Active shooter incidents seem to be on the rise.

Peter Aldhous for BuzzFeed News / Via fbi.gov

In September 2014, the FBI released the most comprehensive study of active shooter situations conducted to date. Katherine Schweit, chief of the bureau's Violence Prevention Section, and John "Pete" Blair, a criminologist at Texas State University, analyzed 160 cases from 2000 to 2013 — which the FBI was confident represented the "vast majority" of all such incidents over the period.

As the chart above shows, active shooter incidents seem to be getting more frequent. From 2000 to 2006, there were 6.4 incidents per year, whereas from 2007 to 2013 it was 16.4 per year.

The study did not look at the race of the shooters. In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, many people on social media have asked whether race played a role in the police's handling of Dear, who is white.

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The shooting is often over before cops can get to the scene.

In almost 67% of cases, the incident was over before the police arrived — which isn't surprising, once you realize how brief most of these events are. The researchers were able to get an accurate timing for 63 of the incidents. Of these, 70% ended in 5 minutes or less.

"Even when law enforcement was present or able to respond within minutes, civilians often had to make life and death decisions, and, therefore, should be engaged in training and discussions on decisions they may face," the researchers concluded.

The stand-off in Colorado, by contrast, lasted for around five hours.

Faced with an armed suspect, some members of the public display astonishing heroism.

In 13% of the incidents studied by Schweit and Blair, unarmed members of the public restrained the shooter — in two out of 21 of these cases, they were assisted by off-duty law enforcement officers.

In another five incidents, members of the public exchanged gunfire with the shooters. In these cases, three shooters were killed, one wounded, and another committed suicide. Off-duty police opened fire in two incidents, killing the shooters.

We often talk about “suicide by cop,” but active shooters are more likely to kill themselves than to be killed by police.

In all, 40% of the shooters killed themselves, mostly at the scene of the crime, and more than half of them before the police arrived.

Law enforcement exchanged gunfire with the shooter in 28% of the incidents — killing the shooter just over half of the time.

For Dear to have been captured alive and uninjured after a shoot-out with police is unusual: In just two incidents did the suspect surrender after exchanging gunfire with police; another nine shooters were captured after being wounded.

At least five of the shooters remained at large at the time the study was completed.

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Here are the casualty figures from the 160 incidents.

Peter Aldhous for BuzzFeed News / Via fbi.gov

Not including the shooters, 486 people were killed and 557 people were wounded across the 160 incidents in the study.

In 2012, the federal government changed its definition of a mass killing to include any incident in which more than three people die. By this definition, 40% of the incidents qualified as a mass killing — they included the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 were killed and 58 wounded, and the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where 32 were killed and 17 wounded.

Three people were killed in Colorado Springs, one of them a police officer — 44-year-old Garrett Swasey. Across the 160 incidents in the FBI study, nine law enforcement officers lost their lives and another 28 were wounded.

Peter Aldhous is a Science Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. His secure PGP fingerprint is 225F B2AF 4B8E 6E3D B1EA 7F9A B96E BF7D 9CB2 9B16

Contact Peter Aldhous at peter.aldhous@buzzfeed.com.

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