There can be no doubt that, in pop culture at least, the mass shooter has replaced the serial killer as the object of public fascination. From the 1970s through the '90s, men like Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer — who killed multiple people over long periods of time, for psychotic and often sexual reasons — became outright celebrities and terrified people far beyond the plausible level of threat they posed. After the Columbine shooting of 1999, however, the serial killer began to be eclipsed by the mass shooter as a figure of fear and fixation. So much so that many observers wonder whether the public obsession with mass shooters is contributing to the problem, because troubled men may glom onto the idea that shooting up a school or a concert or a church is a quick road to getting fame and attention.
But has the mass shooter replaced the serial killer in terms of actual crime statistics? Are the kind of people who used to kill one person at a time, over a period of months or years, now choosing to grab a gun and go out in what they perceive to be a blaze of murderous glory? Are methods of mass murder subject to trends, in the same way that clothing and musical styles are?