(March 1) -- When it comes to mass public shootings, the decade doesn't seem to be starting out too well.
Just two months in and already there was a shooting rampage in rural Virginia (which claimed eight lives), one at the University of Alabama (three dead) and other in Denver, near Columbine High School, in which two middle school students were injured.
But the fact is that, while mass public shootings always tend to galvanize massive media coverage, they are becoming increasingly less common, falling sharply in the last decade compared with the previous two. And understanding this decline is important to helping prevent future mass shootings.
The common definition of a mass public shooting is an incident in which four or more victims are killed publicly with guns within 24 hours -- in the workplace, high schools, college campuses, malls, gyms, restaurants and other public places -- excluding shootings in connection with crimes such as robbery, drug trafficking or gang-related activity. By that definition, there have been 140 mass public shootings in the United States during the last 100 years.
Although mass public shootings may seem to be on the rise, newly compiled data show that there were 24 such incidents in the past decade. While that's still significantly higher than the average of the first eight decades of the 20th century, it does mark a significant decline (nearly 50 percent) from the 43 cases in the 1990s (see chart below).