How Mass Gun Violence Trends Should Inform Physical Security Planning

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Jim Richards headshot
Jim Richards is CEO of Total Security Solutions.

If you want to add ballistic protection to your campus, facility or office, understanding gun violence trends can be helpful for identifying the type of protection you need. Ballistic protection is one of the most important investments you can make, and it’s too easy to make decisions based on fear or “gut” decisions rather than facts and data.

In this article, we examine national gun violence data regarding shooter event frequency, locations and weapons used and review the insights. These insights can be used to inform your physical security planning.

While Still Rare, Mass Shootings Are Becoming More Commonplace

In 2021, there were 20,958 gun murders, with 103 of those were from mass shootings; however, the numbers of mass attacks are increasing. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2022 was the second-highest year (after 2021) for active shooter events of the last five years, and the year with the most casualties. The death toll from mass shootings also continues to increase compared to previous decades, something the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has called “a troubling upward trend.”

Most Common Attack Locations

According to NIJ data from 1966 to the present, the most common mass shooting locations tend to occur in places where people gather.

  • Workplace: 30.8%
  • Retail establishment: 16.9%
  • Bar or restaurant: 13.4%
  • Residential location: 8.1%
  • Outdoors: 8.1%
  • K-12 school: 7.6%
  • Place of worship: 6.4%
  • College or university: 5.2%
  • Government or place of civic importance: 3.5%

Firearms Used During Mass Shootings

Mass shootings typically involve more than one firearm (such as a rifle and a handgun), additional ammunition and other weapons or devices, such as a smoke bomb. According to the FBI, the guns used in active shooter events in 2022 included:

  • 47%: Handguns
  • 43%: Rifles, including semi-automatic weapons
  • 5%: Shotguns
  • 5%: Unknown

Shooters used multiple firearms in nine of the 50 incidents. Interventions, both human and structural, typically prevent shooters from deploying their entire arsenals.

What These Numbers Mean for Businesses and Organizations

Ballistic Protection Is More Important Than It’s Ever Been

As the prevalence of mass violence grows, so does the need for ballistic protection, especially for locations that are frequent targets of violence. Protecting yourself against mass attacks also ensures you’re prepared for other types of gun violence, such as armed robbery or assault; however, most locations have a low statistical likelihood of an encounter with an armed attacker. Still, many workers and visitors experience daily anxiety that comes with feeling exposed, vulnerable or targeted. For example, many utilities offices have ballistic barrier systems in place. Few facilities have experienced ballistic attacks, but irrationally angry customers are an almost daily occurrence. These utilities workers are able to come into work and do their jobs because they know they’re secure.

Bulletproof barriers are an investment, and most organizations install systems to address a real threat. I always recommend investing in good, ongoing risk analysis to guide these decisions. It’s one thing to invest in the most bulletproof doors commercially available because that’s the threat you’re facing. It’s another to do it because news of a mass shooting is circulating. Rational analysis, along with good data, is critical for good decision making.

Protecting Vulnerable Locations

Locations that are at a heightened risk for gun violence must consider integrating ballistic protection. Reinforcing the points of entry, such as the front doors and service counters, can significantly slow would-be shooters and protect people inside the building. For example, a secure entryway and bulletproof inner doors could keep a shooter from breaking into a school and delay them until law enforcement arrives.

Reinforcing Against Most-Used Firearms

The prevalence of handgun use indicates that resilience against handgun fire is critical. Both bulletproof glass and fiberglass panels tested to UL 752 level 3 (which is rated to stop three shots from a .44 Magnum pistol) offer comprehensive protection from handgun fire. And in many cases, simply having a barrier is enough to deter a would-be shooter, especially in situations where gun violence and theft go hand in hand.

In mass attacks where the objective is to cause as much harm as possible, hunting rifles and semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity clips are more prevalent. These attacks consistently have the most casualties. For example, of the five active shooter events with the most casualties in 2022 (injured and killed), four involved rifles or semi-automatic weapons. UL levels four and up offer protection against a variety of rifles, including semi-automatic and hunting rifles.


Something I stress as much as I can is hardening the most vulnerable points of entry in order to delay a shooter until the authorities arrive. Most nonmilitary facilities don’t have the budget to bulletproof every door, window and wall. Strategic, layered bulletproof barrier placement is usually the best strategy for slowing a would-be attacker and preventing as much damage as possible.

Finally, while national trends provide helpful context, I always recommend speaking with a security expert who can help you make a plan that’s specific to your facility. Understanding the threat is the first step to protecting yourself, and this includes contextual factors that are unique to you. It’s never easy or fun to think about an active shooter in your organization. Hopefully, with these numbers in hand, you’ll be able to make decisions with confidence.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Security Industry Association.