The attack at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. One out of every three people at the Pulse nightclub was killed or injured after the shooter, Omar Mateen, opened fire.
The Nightclub Was Loud and Crowded
Mass shooting fatalities are often higher in large, crowded spaces that are somewhat confined, making it hard for people to escape, said J. Pete Blair, a Texas State University professor who trains law enforcement officers to respond to shooters. The noise may have also played a factor: When Mr. Mateen started shooting, one patron said he first thought the gunfire was firecrackers; others said they thought it was part of the music. “Without available avenues of egress, it seems like they didn’t have an easy way of getting out,” Mr. Blair said.
The Shooter Was at the Nightclub for Three Hours
The police did not stop the gunman until three hours after Mr. Mateen started shooting, an unusually long time, Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama who studies mass shootings, said. At some point after the first shots were fired, Mr. Mateen went outside the club and later returned, creating “a hostage situation,” Chief John Mina of the Orlando police said. It is unknown if the shooter killed more people as the police prepared for a confrontation.
The amount of time it takes law enforcement to respond can be a strong predictor of the number of fatalities, Mr. Lankford said. He pointed to the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, when police needed more than three hours to reach injured people, resulting in the deaths of some who desperately needed medical assistance.
The Shooter Had a Powerful Rifle and High-Capacity Magazines
The gunman was armed with an AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle and a 9 millimeter handgun, Chief Mina said.
|Why the Orlando Shooting Was So Deadly|
AR-15s, which were first developed for the military and used extensively in the Vietnam War, are widely owned by assault-rifle enthusiasts. The rifle, which can rapidly fire multiple high-velocity rounds, has been used in a number of mass shootings, including those in Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; and San Bernardino, Calif.
The rifle is legal to buy in most states, including Florida. In 1994, Congress passed an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, that prohibited manufacturing the AR-15 for civilian sale with large-capacity magazines, bayonets or pistol grips.
In a video taken by a bystander at the Orlando shooting, more than 20 rounds can be heard being fired in rapid succession. Like most states, Florida does not restrict the capacity of magazines. State bans have been ineffective: purchasers can cross state lines and AR-15s with limited-capacity magazines can easily be modified to accept larger magazines. The shooters in San Bernardino used high-capacity magazinesdespite California’s ban on semiautomatic rifles with magazines of more than 10 bullets.
The Orlando Shooting Is the Third-Highest Known Toll
Only two mass shootings are known to have killed more people: a 2011 attack at a Norwegian summer camp, and shootings by a lone gunman in South Korea in 1982, according to research by Mr. Lankford. The research includes attacks dating back to a massacre at the University of Texas in 1966 that is often considered the first modern mass shooting.