Orlando is not the deadliest mass shooting in US history

America has a long and ugly past of violence, say historians


Rachael Revesz
New York
Thursday 16 June 2016 14:02 BST
The attack at Pulse nightclub is the deadliest attack in modern history by a lone gunman
The attack at Pulse nightclub is the deadliest attack in modern history by a lone gunman (Reuters)

The media was quick to name the Orlando attacks, in which a lone gunman burst into a gay nightclub and killed 49 people, as the "worst in US history".

But the public accused the media of "whitewashing history" and was quick to ask: What about the massacre of Wounded Knee at the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation?

Historians have acknowledged that after public access to guns for more than 200 years, the attack last weekend is more accurately described as the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

Congress apologised 100 years later for the killing of up to 300 Native American men, women and children in 1890 in South Dakota, but never rescinded the medals awarded to the cavalry.

Mass violence has “a long, ugly history” in America, Katherine Grandjean, history professor at Wellesley College, told Fox News. “It's a pattern as old as the nation and goes back long before even into the colonial roots.”

But what distinguishes more recent attacks from past bloodshed?

Grant Duwe, the director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, told NPR that before 1900, most mass murders were carried out by the “haves” against the “have nots”, and after 1900 this turned around. He also said killings carried out by “military or quasi-military actors” in the mass shooting category anymore.

In 1921, a white mob shot up to 300 people in Tulsa and burnt down the black neighborhood. It became known as the Tulsa race riots.

Before the 20th century, mass murders were usually carried out by a group, like the Mountain Meadows Massacre in the 1800s when a Mormon militia gunned down around 120 people traveling through Utah to California.

In more recent decades, there have been a series of single-shooter killings, including the murder of 12 people in a Colorado cinema in 2012; 32 people shot dead in Virigina Tech in 2007; and 26 people were killed at a primary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012.

A mass shooting is defined by the FBI as “four or more shot and/or killed in a single incident”.

In the wake of Orlando, Democrats were scrambling to list a series of proposals on gun restrictions, including the ban on assault weapons, and held a monumental filibuster of 15 hours, ending in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Democrat representative Seth Moulton said more stringent gun laws are needed, and that over 90 per cent of the US public support restrictions on weapons.

“There is more going on about guns on my Facebook and Twitter feed then there is in congress,” he told CNN.

Democrats are planning to walk out of the house during a 10-second moment of silence in honour of the victims in protest at Republicans’ refusal to budge on gun laws.

Meanwhile the National Rifle Association is holding firm on its pledge to hand out an AR-15 gun - the gold standard of mass murder - as a raffle prize.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in