What research reveals about mass shootings

A toxic stew of hate and gun availability enables mass shootings.
A toxic stew of hate and gun availability enables mass shootings.
No one can make political sense of the mass shootings this weekend that ended 31 lives in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

    Consider that the El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, reportedly posted an online rant referring to a "Hispanic invasion," according to the Buzzfeed website. On the other hand, CNN reports that a Twitter account apparently belonging to Dayton mass shooter Connor Betts, 24, retweeted extreme left-wing and anti-police posts, as well as tweets supporting Antifa, or anti-fascist, protesters.
     Even if it's impossible to make sweeping conclusions, researchers have studied the commonalities. Here are websites, along with links for further study:

The Violence Project: This nonpartisan think tank tracks and studies statistics about mass shootings -- defined as incidents in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms. The research, funded by the National Institute of Justice, includes a study of public mass shooters, according to the website. It is run by Jillian Peterson, a psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University, and James Densley, a sociologist and professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. The two recently wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times in which they explain that mass shooters have four things in common: 

  • The vast majority experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence.
  • Most mass shooters had reached a crisis in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.
  • Most had studied the actions of other shooters.
  • All had the means to carry out their plans.

     The editorial is: "We have studied every mass shooting since 1966. Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters.

American Journal of Public Health -- Mental Illness, Mass Shooting: This analysis, first published in the journal and found on the National Institutes of Health website, takes issue with the often-voiced idea that somehow mass shootings are driven by mental health problems. "Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than five percent of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness," writes Jonathan M. Metzl, with the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society and the Departments of Sociology and Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and Kenneth T. MacLeish of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society and the Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University.

Western Michigan University -- Video games and violence: Another common assumption is that somehow violent video games are responsible for desensitizing youth. But research is also mixed on that.  In three studies, Whitney DeCamp, associate professor of sociology at Western Michigan University, found scant connection between violent tendencies and video games. "The young males in my research were in grades eight and 11. I found that just by themselves, even without any controls, violent video games were a poor predictor of violent behavior," DeCamp said in an article on the university's website. "Even in the best model, it only explained about three percent of the variation in violent behavior."

Rand, Gun Policy in America: The well-respected nonprofit devotes a website to gun policy. One good place to start is, "What Science Tells Us About the Effects of Gun Policies." Policymakers must "understand the costs and benefits that different policies are likely to produce for society as a whole, including gun owners, communities wracked by violence, and other affected groups," the website points out. 

Everytown for Gun Safety -- Extreme Risk Laws: The nonprofit has a webpage explaining "extreme risk laws" or "red flag laws," aimed at empowering those who recognize warning signs "to intervene in order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms." The law allows for law enforcement or perhaps family members "to petition a court for an order, often known as an extreme risk protection order to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations."

Southern Poverty Law Center: This nonprofit, based in Alabama, has a resource page on white nationalism, along with sidebars detailing the activities of associated extremist groups. Leaders of these movements "will continue to explain away the violence in their movement as a regrettable but understandable reaction to demographic change," the center points out.

StudyHall.Rocks: Our website has published a number of reports about research into mass shootings and guns in society. Here are the links:

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