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Infographic: Mass shootings in America

  • A gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard September 16, leaving 12 innocent people dead
  • Hundreds of Americans have been killed in mass shootings over the past decade
Infographic: Mass shootings in America

Another mass shooting has shaken the American spirit and renewed the seemingly insolvable conversation about gun violence in this country.

A gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Monday, leaving at least 12 innocent people dead, and several others wounded.

The definition of a mass shooting varies, depending on the source, but the fundamental characteristics are consistent. According to the FBI, a mass murder is a number of murders, typically four or more, that occur during the same incident with no distinctive time period between them. Based on that definition, a mass shooting is a shooting during which four or more people are shot. The shooting involves one or more shooters firing multiple times into a group of unarmed victims. There’s one aspect in particular that makes a mass shooting such a heinous crime -- the shooter often targets a group of unarmed victims.

So should we restrict access to these deadly weapons or focus more on how to halt the illegal use of them?

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Back in 1994, Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban that lasted 10 years, but the law expired in 2004. Whether the ban would have reduced the number of mass shootings is unknown. Most guns in the United States are semi-automatic, so the law didn’t ban them altogether.

The law banned 18 specific firearms, as well as certain military-type features on guns, such as high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Certain AR-15 and AK-47 style rifles were banned. But while the law made it illegal to manufacture certain firearms and high-capacity magazines for use by private citizens, it remained legal to own or sell any assault weapon or magazine that was manufactured before the law went into effect.

Although an AR-15 rifle was not used in the Navy Yard shooting, AR-15s have been used in some mass shootings, because of their ability to fire multiple rounds very quickly, allowing the shooter to cause the most damage possible. The AR-15 rifle is the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, but all models are semi-automatic, not fully automatic, and are still considered assault weapons.

Although these rifles get a lot of coverage following high-profile shootings, they account for only a small fraction of murders in the United States. Of 12,664 murder victims in 2011, only 323 were killed with rifles, according to the FBI.

AR-15s are not the only weapons used in rampage shootings; semi-automatic handguns are also often used. The Washington Navy Yard shooter used a shotgun, and two handguns that police believe he may have taken from guards during the incident.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and strong proponent of a ban on assault weapons, issued a statement Monday after the Washington Navy Yard shooting.

"When will enough be enough?" she said. "Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life."

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