It's been an unusually quiet week when it comes to episodes of mass gun violence in America.
Since VICE began tracking mass shootings earlier this week, there has been one such incident in the United States and three in Europe. A shooting in Washington, DC, injured four; a second in Shlisselburg, Russia, left two dead and three wounded; an apparent bank robbery in Odessa, Ukraine on Wednesday injured four security guards; and a shooting in Loures, Portugal on Thursday injured five. Every gun death and injury is a tragedy, but compared to data on the early days of recent years from the Gun Violence Archive—whose metrics we are largely following—one shooting with four casualties in a six-day period is a low figure for America. And the first six days of this week have been no abberation: To date, 2016 has seen mercifully few mass shootings in the United States compared to the same period in the last few years.
According to GVA data, the stretch from January 31 to February 5 yielded two shootings in both 2013 and 2014, and four in 2015. And when you zoom out and look at each of these years from January 1 through February 5, the 2016 numbers appear similarly encouraging: By this time in 2013, America had witnessed 14 mass shootings leaving 17 dead and 47 injured; in 2014 it was 19 events with 18 dead and 72 injured; in 2015 it was 26 shootings, with 42 dead and 86 injured. Although mass shootings in America have killed 21 people this year, more than the number by February 5 in 2013 or 2014, the total incident and casualty numbers (12 and 57, respectively) are down.
Still, these events are erratic and rarely-studied, so experts warn against reading too much into early figures.
As James Fox, a professor at Northeastern University specializing in mass murders and gun violence, points out, mass shootings are volatile phenomena, and the few years of data we have aren't robust enough to show real trends. To his eye, these figures fall within random variability. At this stage, he can't see any factors that would or could explain a decrease in shootings this year beyond chance. He adds that there remain far too many unknowns to say anything as to whether 2016 might witness any change when it comes to America's mass shooting problem.
"[Perhaps] a couple people were poorer shots," he tells me of this year's lower tally of casualties and incidents so far.
So we'd be foolish to get complacent about the policy and social issues underlying gun violence. Shootings could stay low throughout the year. Or they could spike next week. The best thing we can do is continue monitoring the situation, keeping the horrific frequency of mass shootings in our minds as much as we can bear.
This post has been updated.