In the comments section to Betty Cracker’s original post on the Oregon college shooting several questions were asked about just what exactly makes a mass shooting a mass shooting. While I provided some quick responses in those comment threads, I also said I’d put something more about about it later this evening. Below you’ll find the conceptual review from the preliminary report I was asked to do in 2014 on Soldiers who commit mass shootings. I’ve included the citations, which can now be found at the bottom of the post – and I apologize that I can’t find a way to superscript them. I am not including the sections dealing with the specific cases of Soldiers who have committed mass shootings or attempted them or other types of mass murder. Please remember/keep in mind that this is just the conceptual material that set up what at the time was supposed to be the first, preliminary portion of a much longer research project.
Multiple Homicide, Mass Murder, or Mass Shooting?
There is significant academic debate over exactly what an event, especially a criminal event, is. For instance, there has long been some confusion over whether Ted Kaczynksi, the Unabomber, is a terrorist or a serial killer. Terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.”3 Serial homicide, however, is defined as a multiple form of murder conducted over an extended period of time.4 Given that his actions were the result of untreated mental illness and psychosis a good case can be made for placing him in the serial killer category, rather than within the terrorist one.
A similar question exists for MAJ Nidal Hasan, the first mass shooter at Ft. Hood who killed twelve Soldiers and one civilian on November 5, 2009.5 Hasan, in the most specific sense, committed an act of mass murder, specifically a mass shooting. However, because of his pre-trial statements, information uncovered in the investigation of the attack, and domestic political and media pressure, his crime has been designated to be an act of terrorism according to FBI Director James Comey.6
Another area of debate, largely spurred by the increase in media and its availability in general, and social media in specific, is whether there has been a significant increase in mass shooting multiple homicides or mass murders over time. This is usually due to confusion over the label active shooter as opposed to mass shooting. The former describes an ongoing tactical situation in which an individual both uses a gun in the commission of his or her crime and who attempts to kill multiple people in the commission of said crime and directs law enforcement to neutralize the threat. It can, however, also refer to someone who only shoots and kills one person, which is a single homicide or murder.
As a result it conflates the categories and this conflation is largely a product of media coverage and popular reference. The answer to whether there has been an increase in mass shooting incidents, however, is very straightforward: the number of mass murders by shooter per year is relatively stable at about .18% of all homicides per year.7 Criminologists James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLauter8, using FBI data from the Supplementary Homicide Reports, have demonstrated that there are approximately twenty to twenty-five mass shootings a year and that this figure is stable over time from 1976 through 2011.
The key theoretical and conceptual issue is to actually define a mass shooting. As South Texas College of Law Assistant Professor Josh Blackman and his co-author Shelby Baird note9 shooting is not a recognized criminological term. Rather, it is a reference to how an act or offense is committed. In the case of attacks committed by firing a gun, depending on the number of victims and the type of attack, it could be a single homicide, a multiple homicide, which encompasses double and triple homicides, as well as serial and mass murder. The last category, mass murder, occurs when a minimum of four victims are killed, by one or a few assailants, within a single event, which can range in time from a few minutes at a single location to several hours at multiple ones and involves the indiscriminate slaughter of strangers.10
Criminologists James Alan Fox and Jack Levin are careful to differentiate mass murder from serial murder, as well as caution that a distinction has to be made between mass murder, to include mass shootings, and similar events that occur during war and would be better categorized as a war crime, crime against humanity, or a mass atrocity. Finally, the minimum of four victims cannot include the murderer himself or herself, should the perpetrator be killed in the commission of the act or commit suicide as part of it.
This largely mirrors the FBI’s definition of the phenomenon.11 Fox and Levin make it clear that these types of events are not simply the indiscriminate killing of strangers. Almost 40% are murders of families by a member of the family (familicide) and mass shootings not involving families, but involving victims and offenders who are acquainted account for almost another 40% of this type of crime.12
The theoretical discussion of what constitutes a mass murder, whether committed by shooting or other means, is a discussion driven by tactical considerations. Another potential way to conceptualize mass murders is to consider these crimes in regards to effects; specifically the effect the perpetrator was trying to achieve. Applying the shorthand military strategy construct of ends, ways, and means to mass murder or attempted mass murder may be useful and help to break down some of the conceptual distinctions that matter to criminologists, but do not significantly impact whether an attacker is an insider threat or not.
The ends, ways, and means model is typically applied to military strategy. The ends are the strategic outcomes or desired effects. The ways are the methods used to achieve the objectives and ends. Means are the resources needed to attain the strategic effect. In short, ends equals ways plus means. By using this strategic construct it may be possible to get past the theoretical discussion focused on tactics – how many killed, how they were killed, where they were killed, and engage the phenomenon in regards to effects – what was the killer trying to achieve (ends), how was he trying to achieve it (ways), and what resources did he use to do so (means).
Conceptual Explanations for Mass Shooters: Towards a Typology of the Mass Shooter
Psychologist Peter Langman13, through case examination of ten mass shooters who targeted schools, has developed a typology of the mass shooter. He was able to identify three broad types: the traumatized, the psychotic, and the psychopathic. Langman describes the traumatized, which encompassed three of the shooters, as coming from broken homes, with parental abuse and criminal behavior. They all suffered physical abuse and two were also sexually abused outside of the home.
Five of the ten shooters were psychotic, falling somewhere on the schizophrenia spectrum and demonstrating schizophrenic and schizotypal personality disorders. Psychotic disorders are defined as “severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perception”.14 T hose suffering from this condition, also referred to as psychosis, lose touch with reality and can suffer delusions and hallucinations. There was no history of abuse, nor were they from broken homes.
The two remaining shooters were psychopathic. Psychopathy is a difficult to identify personality disorder. Psychopaths “lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile, and often (but by no means always) criminal”.15 Moreover, these two shooters had coopted two of the other types. In the case of the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris, the psychopath, coopted Dylan Klebold, who exhibited schizotypal disorder, which was not fully known until his journals were released years after the attack. Andrew Golden, also a psychopath, seems to have brought Mitchell Golden, who had been traumatized, into his plans that left five dead and ten wounded in Jonesboro, AR.
Langman makes it very clear that his typology is NOT meant to explain the attacks, their nature, or the reasons for them. Rather it is intended to help better understand the shooters, but other factors must also be considered to understand the criminogenesis of the mass shooting. Given Langman’s focus on the psychology, and the psychological factors at play in mass shootings, indicates that social – socio-cultural and social behavioral factors must still be considered.
Sociologists Cybelle Fox and David Harding16 posit that mass shootings, for the purposes of their study specifically in schools, are an example of organizational deviance. Essentially, they are a response to the failure, intentional or otherwise, of organizations to live up to their own goals and expectations thereby creating unintentional consequence. Cybelle Fox and David Harding are basically presenting a strain explanation for mass shootings.
Agnew developed a General Theory of Strain, or more commonly Strain Theory, as an update and revision to Merton’s understanding of classic anomie theory. Classic anomie theory, rooted in the work of French sociologist Emile Durkheim, refers to a state of normlessness or the lack of social regulation. For Durkheim this was a key empirical explanation for suicide. Robert Merton, of the Chicago School of Criminology, adapted Durkheim’s theory to explain the concentration of crime in urban areas and among minority groups in general and the overall high(er) crime rates in American society.17 Merton’s work was part of the well known Chicago Neighborhood Studies into crime, deviance, and delinquency conducted by sociologists at the University of Chicago in the 1930s.
Agnew’s18 reformulation suggests that strain, the separation of an individual from a society, group, sub-culture, etc and its norms, values, and mores, occurs under three conditions. The first is when society sets goals to be achieved, but there is no provision of the means to achieve the goals and reap the rewards. The second type of strain occurs when society sets the goal, an individual or group labors and appears to achieve the goal, but the rewards are withheld. The third type of strain occurs when society sets the goal, an individual or group labors and appears to achieve the goal, but rather than getting the reward, they receive a negative or noxious response, such as a punishment.
Strain exists should any of these three conditions be met. At this point when strain has occurred there are only three possible responses. The first is a devaluation of the strain, by devaluing the goal that was supposed to be achieved, but could not be. The second is to direct the strain inward, usually leading to self-destructive behavior. The final response is to direct the strain outward, which can often lead to externally destructive behavior.
It is this last type of strain response that Cybelle Fox and David Harding posit as at the heart of the organizational deviance of mass shootings. Criminologists Jack Levin and Eric Mafdis19, also focusing on school shooters, have proposed a cumulative strain model of mass shootings that also incorporates elements of other criminological theories. They posit that as strain builds up over time, unless outlets to mitigate or devalue it exist, that it can lead to a mass shooting event.
Both Cybelle Fox and David Harding’s and Levin and Mafdis’s conceptualization of a response that occurs because of a buildup of frustration, which is then directed outwards, provides some clues in regards to potential structural drivers of mass murder as an insider threat. These include bullying; exposure to toxic leadership/workplace/educational environments; perceived negative interactions with peers and superiors, as well as an inability to meet or exceed standards in professional, educational, social, or familial settings all have the potential to contribute to an increase in strain and potentially to violent responses to these conditions and situations.
3 Joint Publication 1-02, 15 MAR 2014.
4 James Alan Fox and Jack Levin, “Multiple Homicide: Patterns of Serial and Mass Murder”, Crime and Justice, VOL 23, 1998.
5 “Army Colonel Recommends Trial in Ft. Hood Rampage”, CBS-DFW, 17 NOV 2010, http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2010/11/17/army-colonel-recommends-trial-in-fort-hood-rampage/.
6 Siobhan O’Grady, “FBI Director: al Qaida Inspired Hasan’s Ft. Hood Attack”, The Houston Chronicle, 21 MAY 2014, http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/FBI-director-al- Qaida-inspired-Hasan-s-Fort-Hood-5496546.php.
7 Josh Blackman, “No the Number of Mass Shootings has not Tripled since 2008”, Josh Blackman’s Blog, 9 JAN 2014, http://joshblackman.com/blog/2014/01/09/no-the-number-of-mass-shootings-has-not- tripled-since-2008/.
8 James Alan Fox & Monica J. DeLateur, Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown,
Homicide Studies, 18 DEC 2013, http://hsx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/11/27/1088767913510297. 9 Josh Blackman and Shelby Baird, “The Shooting Cycle”, Connecticut Law Review, VOL 46, JAN 2014.
10 Fox and Levin, 1998.
11 “Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators”, Federal Bureau of Investigation National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, 2005.
12 Blackman and Baird, 2014.
13 Peter Langman, “Rampage School Shooters: A Typology”, Aggression and Violent Behavior, VOL 14, 2009.
14 “Psychotic Disorders”, National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/psychoticdisorders.html.
15 “What is Psychopathy?” Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychopathy.
16 Cybelle Fox and David J. Harding, “School Shootings as Organizational Deviance”, Sociology of Education, VOL 78, JAN 2005.
17 Robert K. Merton, “Social Structure and Anomie”, American Sociological Review, VOL 3, 1938.
18 Robert Agnew, “A Revised Strain Theory of Delinquency.” Social Forces, VOL 64, 1985.
19 Jack Levin and Eric Mafdis, “Mass Murder at School and Cumulative Strain: A Sequential Model”, American Behavioral Scientist, VOL 52, NO 9, MAY 2009.
Thank you, Adam. Lovely to see you here. Now to read your post more closely.
Thanks, Adam! Really appreciate the deep dives and scholarly perspective. Also, love the footnotes. Happy to see you here more often!
One obvious question I have is why so many of the mass shootings seem to be at schools. Is this because schools make an attractive target, because students are especially prone to the kind of strain you mention, or is it because school and university age is when schizoid tendencies most often start to manifest? I suppose it could be some mixture of the three.
Adam L Silverman
@Roger Moore: Those are great questions. I think its a combination of the two.
You know, the strain theory combined with a noxious sense of entitlement explains so much about MRAs and their hatred of women.
I went to a movie in Boston last week and prior to the film during the theater’s promos they had a detailed “What to do in a shooting” bit that never mentioned the word “shooting” but it was clear what was being referenced. Really hit home how much this phenomena is spreading like a virus.
Pretty fascinating. The three conditions for strain you describe, along with saying that it can apply to individuals or groups, sound as if they might give rise to terrorist groups, too. Do sociologists follow that line of reasoning, or is it an over-generalization?
Good post. Thanks
Adam L Silverman
@RSA: I do in my work – when I was doing my doctorate, when I was still an academic, and once I went to work for the Army. Basically I combined Agnew’s material with Akers’ Social Learning and a couple of other concepts into an empirical model.
I don’t pay too much attention to what is going on these days with that stuff as I find that most of the scholarly work on terrorism misses a lot. Largely because it doesn’t matter how good your model is, until you’ve actually interacted with people that have engaged in different types of low intensity warfare, you’re missing a lot.
Also, for disclosure: I know Agnew. Akers was the chair of the criminology side of my doctorate. I know Levin and Fox, though only casually. My Dad, who was also a criminologist, knew them both much better.
Strain theory is brilliant. It might explain some of the sites being schools. Teenage years are such a challenge, and maybe the biggest emphasis ever on conformity. Young adult years: more challenge. More time to marinate in pain and alienation and hopelessness.
And I’d say Ted Kaczinski was a hybrid of psychosis and terrorism. He had a manifesto, published in the Washington Post (?) He targeted a Yale computer science professor. He was political in his aims.
FWIW, today’s shooter was 26.
Adam L Silverman
@Elizabelle: I tend to go the other direction with the Unabomber. Had his psychosis been treated, he wouldn’t have attacked anyone. To me he has more in common with the Son of Sam killer – David Berkowitz, than he does with even the most strident eco-terrorists we’ve seen.
However, its not something to get in a fight over.
Another shooting. Inglis, Florida. 3 reported dead Fox 13 Tampa. Just hitting Twitter.
Gun violence now is killing about 120,000 people in the US per decade. It will take another decade and a bit more before enough opinions change and enough of the dead enders die off for wide spread common sense changes to be put in place.
Positive change will happen, it just is going to take a awhile, and unfortunately that means that many innocent folks who had no intention of being in harm’s way will be slaughtered.
We certainly are an exceptional society.
Would you say that Dick Cheney’s most infamous actions “were the result of untreated mental illness and psychosis”?
@Cervantes: are you referencing his friend who ended up on the receiving end of some bird shot, or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on the receiving end of his policies? Pretty sure it makes a difference.
@Roger Moore: I would probably add the component of copy cats. School shootings are heavily publicized, so the shooter can reasonably assume they will be made “famous”.
This is all very fascinating. It really is. And I don’t mean to come off condescending, because God knows you’re smarter than me. The pathologies must be recognized and addressed, without question, and you’ve done us all a service with this posting to be sure. But we as a society need to address the most important commonality among these mass shooters.
The easy availability of high capacity firearms.
Without the guns, few if any of these people would be notorious to anyone but maybe local police forces.
Yes, when I asked about his “most infamous actions,” I was referring to deliberate ones. Thanks for clarifying.
@Soonergrunt: Other developed countries have the same issues with mental illness. They do not have the same issues with gun violence.
@Adam L Silverman: Thanks. It’s interesting and important work.
@Soonergrunt: To this theory, the mental instability necessary to drive one to a mass shooting has always been present but with the difficulty in acquiring guns they’ve not been able to be achieved.
There are mass knivings in China, seems like always in schools. I assume the same impulse, but I wonder if even in China they are gaining “inspiration” from America.
In a great while, there are posts on this shithole refuge of a blog that I slow down and read carefully.
Bingo, sunshine, it’s your’s and Tom’s.
Cole can fuck himself. I’m glad you’re here. Keep it up.
Student that was at the scene commented that many students there conceal-carry on campus, so fat lot of good that did.
TLDR It takes that long to define a mass shooting? Really?
@Soonergrunt: Agreed. The post was excellent and thorough. But as at the 10,000 foot level, I disagree with the overall focus on “mass shootings”. As it implies that our societal problem with respect to shooting is the “mass shooting” variety (maybe because its the kind of shootings that tends to involve white suburbanites as victims and not those “thugs” in the “ghetto”)
When the reality is the societal problem we have with respect to shooting is…shootings. Our problem is guns, and the all too easy access the general public has to them.
This happened in my city this week – http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-artist-fatally-shot-oakland-20150930-story.html
Which then was followed by this – http://kron4.com/2015/09/30/fatal-shooting-in-oakland-hills-near-joaquin-miller-park/
We are at 69 homicides so far this year in Oakland (most of them by gunshot). That’s 7 times the number of people killed today in the Oregon shooting. We will probably have a dozen or more before the year’s end. The only time I see the President in our area is when he’s in town for a fundraiser in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
Frankly, I’m a bit sick and tired of the only time any of this stuff percolates into the national consciousness is when some random loner kills a bunch of people in a “mass” shooting. We have a headcount almost every month in Oakland that’s close to the number of people killed today in that Oregon shooting.
EVERY. SINGLE. GODDAMN. MONTH.
Mingobat f/k/a Karen in GA
@Dr. Omed: Oh, FFS.
By 2023, every American will either be a shooting victim or a gunman.
But why so often now? Why are they so under stress?
Which parts of that increased or became unbearable? Or alternately, are there fewer outlets to mitigate or devalue whatever is causing the strain?
@? Martin: It’s kind of hard to pay attention in class if you’re in a state of constant vigilance, scanning the room for any potential threat. Guns are like the American equivalent of a protective amulet; the protection they offer is imaginary though real in the mind of the believer.
The “so often now” — to the extent it’s real and needs explaining — may have less to do with “stress” and more to do with sheer and increasing availability of firearms.
Apologies for my earlier (uncharacteristic) surliness.
Welcome aboard, Doc.
@Cervantes: Also, I wonder about the effect of getting into toxic online environments that feed insecurities. I’m thinking all the MRA groups, anti-feminists, etc. It was a lot harder to find people to egg you on in the pre-internet days.
@Dr. Omed: Christ. I grew up very near there. Reports are pretty sketchy so far.
In academic terms it is probably important to try and precisely define a mass shooting but in practical terms how about we try, I don’t know, maybe something like banning fucking guns?
Right, that’s the method, and I completely agree that the carnage is guns but do you think it’s opportunistic- they are not dealing and guns are available so they would be buckling under whatever this “strain” is regardless, but with a lot less bloodshed?
@Mingobat f/k/a Karen in GA: The Inglis shooting was evidently “domestic”. 2 victims dead, shooter killed himself. Not a “mass” shooting.
I’ll never forget the encounter I had with Colin Ferguson, the LI Railroad shooter, on the day before his rampage. Because my workplace had metal detectors, all he could do was scream at everyone until he was “escorted” out of the building by court security, but that man was a walking time bomb of rage the likes of which I had never seen before. Still, without a firearm, a tool that encourages depersonalized killing, I suspect his rage would have found its maximum outlet in screaming and throwing things.
@Betty Cracker: Yep. Three dead, one of them the shooter (as so far reported). Not quite a mass shooting by the terms set out here, but another instance in which a gun makes murder and mayhem so much easier.
Minor programming note: I can get superscript (pc, PaleMoon browser) by using “sup” inside carats — less-than symbol, sup, greater-than symbol — and, of course, carat-right slash-sup-carat to close the tag.
Let’s see if subscript will work for me13…
If your screen looks like mine, as a front-pager, you should be able to hit the little ‘edit’ pencil icon and see what I’ve typed 42…
I’m going to go off onto a limb here. Feel free to knock me down.
The most disturbed/distressed/unapproachable/unruly/brilliant kids I knew in high school (80s) found their outlets in the arts and theater.
The bullies and thugs went to bang each other on the football fields, but the punks and goths and misanthropic sociopaths were throwing clay or paint or Hamlet to the crowds. Cathartic (i.e, safe) outlets.
Perhaps there’s a price to be paid for “budgetary cuts”?
In 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. 200 of those were children aged 14 or younger. CDC
@kdaug: Sounds like you grew up in a tough neighborhood. :)
@kdaug: I disagree. The true sociopaths never engaged in creative pursuits. Instead, they were the ones who tended to join the Federalist Society or College Republicans.
Adam L Silverman
@Soonergrunt: wouldn’t have taken the comment, without the caveat, as condescending.
Adam L Silverman
@kdaug: thanks, but without Cole I wouldn’t be here.
Adam L Silverman
@RK: I did the short version earlier and promised something longer and more analytical. As I indicated at the top of this post, this is an excerpt from a report I was asked to do for the Army back in 2014.
Adam L Silverman
@goblue72: Again, the focus is because 1) we had a well publicized mass shooting today and 2) I happen to know something about this because I did some work for the Army on it in 2014, so 3) excerpting from that work made a certain amount of sense.
Its not meant to diminish or take away from the daily amount of shootings or other violent assaults and murders that are done with other weapons.
The focus on defining what qualifies as a mass shooting is just wrong headed, imo.
The US has about 3 times the overall homicide rate (all murders, not just guns) than just about every other high income country. The recurrence of mass shootings is just a symptom of this, the loudest, but actually most insignificant portion of this problem. The focus needs to be on bringing down the overall homicide rate to that of Australia, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Canada. If all those countries can do it — and many more — so can the US. But solving mass shootings will not move the needle much. Reduce homicides and you reduce mass shootings and much much more.
Adam L Silverman
@Kay: Everyone responds to strain differently. Moreover, even if one has been able to devalue one’s strain in previous occasions does not mean they will always be able to do so.
The real problem with this, and almost all of our criminological theories, is the ability to actually measure the effects of the explanation.
Or as good Professor Brown at UF liked to say when I was in grad school: “people are squishy”.
Adam L Silverman
@magurakurin: it is impossible to formulate an acceptable policy, let alone an effective strategy to achieve the policy outcomes, if one doesn’t understand the problem one is dealing with.
(Using improv skills) Yes and….
Yes, availability is clearly the monster in the room or the turd in the punch bowl.
And I also think that there are a handful of factors that might nudge upon the “Why so many now” question. For instance, there are 150,000,000 more folks living here than when I was a child and nearly 90,000,000 more than when I graduated college. Sweden has 95,000,000. Russia, Europe’s largest, has 143,000,000.
Population size and density are not the only issue, but we are an artificially congregated society well known for a “not playing well with others” ethos. Part of that ethos is a pronounced desire to turn away from the misfortune of others, particularly if that misfortune presents as an emotional dysfunction. More citizens add more chances for more problems.Thus it does not surprise me that there are increases in these types of violence.
Actually, I wonder why there has not been more.
As our population continues to grow, change in gun laws will come because the increasing bloodshed will become just too amazingly terrible for almost all to ignore or explain away.
Adam L Silverman
@Anne Laurie: I don’t even understand what you typed!
@Anne Laurie: Screw the superscript. I just want to get in and edit my last comment, but WP won’t let me. FYWP.
Totes going to avoid the obligatory “sup, Doc”.
But AL, I do see a superscript “42” at the end of your post.
Good answer, but I think I’ll keep looking.
Drunk driving is a great example to explain the frustration with these shootings, though, because we did and do something about drunk driving. We don’t do anything about shootings.
If it’s down to 33% then it’s working.
@Adam L Silverman:
yeah, or we could ban guns. Whatever. I don’t live there full time anymore. I worry somewhat when I visit every summer, but by moving to Japan I gave up my 2nd amendment right to own a gun. I don’t think they ever had a big policy discussion about it here. You can’t have them. full stop. Also, Australia didn’t have to work up a thousand policy papers to ban guns after their big mass shooting. They just said enough, no more guns.
There has been enough study, enough discussion, enough proposals. And the gun people won. Ban the fucking guns or stop fucking talking about, or talk about it if you want. But if you don’t ban the guns none of it matters a whit.
@Adam L Silverman: Here’s the public policy problem in the United States – lack of gun control. Full stop. The rest is just noise.
@magurakurin: thank you.
@magurakurin: Well, this society is not going to ban guns. It will be hard enough to get substantially tougher restrictions on purchase and ownership, but I think that we will in a decade or so.
@Goblue72: dude, I’m sorry I yelled at you the other day. What can I say, I’m kind of a dick. cheers.
I wonder if there is, for lack of a better word, an operational aspect to the choice of schools as sites for mass murders with firearms. One, many school environments tend to be fairly open places, with easy access. Second, schools have high concentrations of potential victims available at regular times and places in “captive” spaces where victims will not be moving freely in and out (except at prescribed times).
@Linnaeus: There’s also a great deal of symbolism and drama to be created by causing mayhem at a school, and I can see that potentially being alluring.
I am specifically interested in the physical settings myself, because, as I have mentioned before, I am an architect and I specialize in the design of healthcare facilities. Hospitals are also starting to have more and more shootings take place, and designers are trying to figure out how to better design the built environment to better adapt. It is a challenge.
The FBI defines a serial killing as the murder of more than 3 people by the same person.
America is now up to one mass shooting per day, on average.
Meanwhile, when I tell people that 3 citizens in Great Britain died by firearms in all of last year, they gape at me in disbelief.
Except while the the population has been increasing (not particularly fast, in fact, near zero other than immigration), the crime rate has fallen. As Adam notes, the data suggest mass killing rates are reasonably flat (Media coverage is likely greater however). The percentage of people who own guns IS dropping. However, there are almost as many guns if not more guns than people in the US.
So these facts do suggest as fewer and fewer people own guns, the political will for serious gun control should improve BUT there are SO many guns out there that major positive effects may take a while.
One thing that I no longer hold out much hope for is better gun safety through technology. For example, it would be quite easy at this point to make guns that couldn’t be used to commit suicide thus reducing a fair number of preventable deaths (not all suicides are preventable but when the barriers to suicide are higher, there is more opportunity for appropriate intervention). But for most of today’s gun buyers, anything that potentially interferes with an ability to shoot in any and all circumstances is a deal breaker. Any review of the non-hunting gun market will show one that the three keys words are: Lethality, Lethality, Lethality.
@cthulhu: Yes, the overall violent crime rate is falling a bit (12,791 gun deaths in 2006 vs 11,101 in 2011). I was speaking to multiple casualty gun crimes which seem not to be dropping.
@Adam L Silverman: From the perspective of causes, Kaczynski was a mentally ill serial killer. From the perspective of effects, he was more of a political terrorist: his actions actually sparked a bunch of think-pieces about how he wasn’t so crazy at all, his manifesto made important points about technology and culture, and the system was trying to peg him as mentally ill to suppress his message.
Then again, other serial killers have fans as well.
According to the OP, the rate of these events isn’t actually increasing; they were happening all along. They may be getting more attention.
Adam L Silverman
@Suzanne: I’ve done professional work on this. This includes an article in Security Journal in 2006 that I adapted for a contact at DHS a couple of years ago after the LAX shooting.
Basically you’re talking about either crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) or terrorism prevention through environmental design (TPTED).
Feel free to reach out if I can be of assistance.
Mass shootings are more a symptom than the main problem, yes.
I’ve wondered in the past if they might be exponentially increasing while general homicides decline, but the statistics in the OP imply that they’re not; the rate is relatively flat (and, while they’re far too frequent, they’re infrequent enough that noise can dominate statistics).
But, even so, I think it does largely come down to guns. General crime rates are not that high in the US compared to, say, the UK, not even violent crime rates. But we have many more homicides, and a large number of them are committed with guns; that says to me that the main reason our homicide rate is higher is that people can get guns, and guns make violent attacks far more lethal. There are many other ways to kill somebody, but they’re harder, less likely to pull off in the heat of the moment, and less likely to turn some random drunken fight into a killing.
Guns also make suicide far more likely. Gun suicides in the US exceed homicides. (And, interestingly, they seem to be a white people’s problem: white Americans kill themselves at a far greater rate than people of other races.) I’ve wondered if we ought to be thinking of mass spree shootings more as a subvariety of suicide, given the things that generally cause them.
@magurakurin: That 2nd Amendment and, more precisely, its case law are real obstacles. We legally can’t just ban guns here. It’s all very well to say that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t actually mean that, but just as the case law concerning the Bill of Rights and the 14th has evolved in good and bad ways, to ban teacher-led prayers in public schools and legalize gay marriage and unlimited Super PAC contributions, here the court interpretations have evolved in a direction not conducive to preservation of life and limb.
I would love to see the 2nd repealed or clarified by another constitutional amendment, but the veto points in the US are such that it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.
I realize that this piece wasn’t written specifically to address the overall national situation in 2015, but I think there’s something potentially misleading about how it’s presented.
A commonly heard statement these days (here for instance) is that there’s been an average of _one mass shooting per day_ lately. Someone who’s read that, and then comes here and sees that the average has actually been “20 to 25 per year” with no upward trend for the last 40 years, would have to conclude that either 1. one of those figures is completely wrong or 2. they’re defined differently. It’s #2— Adam is talking about shootings where four or more people _died_, whereas the larger figure is shootings where four or more people _were shot_.
So, are those two figures necessarily closely correlated— that is, if there’s been no upward trend in one, does that mean the other is more stable than we think, too? Your guess is as good as mine, but I can think of at least one plausible reason why mass shooters might be getting less efficient at killing their victims (if we are seeing more impulsive crimes, the shooters these days might just be going about things less carefully).
In any case, from the point of view of a person who likes to go to movie theaters, schools, churches, etc., that larger figure is much more relevant to me than the narrower FBI definition. If we really do have a large and increasing number of shooting sprees in public places, that’s a really horrible problem even if the number of people who _die_ that way isn’t increasing.
@Linnaeus: I think schools are a preferred target because they, even more than churches or athletic centers or libraries, are the center of a community. Cf. the Bath School disaster, where Andrew Kehoe perpetrated what is still the worst mass killing at a U.S. school. The dude had serious issues and took out his anger and frustration on the school. One could say the school was handy for him to use, and there’s a certain amount of truth to that. But I think Kehoe wanted to vent his anger in the biggest and most powerful way he could think of, and I believe perpetrators of mass school killings think similarly.
Incidentally, two of my grandparents lived near Bath at the time and remember feeling the explosion.
*Edited topic to target. Darned autocorrect.
Adam L Silverman
@Hob: Good conceptual catch! Let me poke around a bit and see if I can’t come up with something that deals with the discrepancy.
For me this just reinforces need to be able to properly conceptualize what one is talking about in regards to the problem.
@RK: Re: TLDR – you probably stop the microwave a few seconds before it’s done heating up whatever you stuck in there too, amirite? Okay to say yes – I do the same thing. Patience, curiosity and nuance are kind of lost on our society.