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Crime Study Debunks Mass Shooting Myths

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Crime Study Debunks Mass Shooting Myths





Are mass shootings really on the rise in America? Will an increased focus on mental health help prevent mass murders? Would expanded background checks really make a difference? The answer to all of these questions, according to author and Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox, is no.

In the study, “Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown,” Fox and coauthor Monica DeLateur, analyzed research and important statistics to debunk many common myths surrounding mass shootings—many of which were the subject of proposals from the Obama administration and Democrats in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

“Public discourse is grounded in myth and misunderstanding about the nature of the offense and those who perpetrate it,” Fox writes in the journal Homicide Studies, where the research was published. “Without minimizing the pain and suffering of the hundreds of those who have been victimized in recent attacks, the facts clearly say that there has been no increase in mass shootings and certainly no epidemic.”

Some of the study’s findings include:

  • Mass murderers snap and kill randomly
    - Mass murderers typically plan their assaults days, weeks, or months in advance. Their motives are most typically revenge, power, loyalty, terror, and profit.
  • Mass shootings are on the rise
    - According to FBI data, over the past few decades there has been an average of 20 mass shootings a year in the U.S.
  • Violent entertainment, especially video games are causally linked to mass murder
    - Scientists have not found a causal link between video games and mass murder; violent video gaming may be a symptom and not a cause of the incidents.
  • There are telltale signs that can help us to identify mass murderers before they act -
    Murderers tend to be male Caucasians with psychological issues, but these characteristics apply to a very large portion of the population.
  • Widening the availability of mental-health services will allow unstable individuals to get the treatment they need and decrease mass murders
    - Increasing mental health facilities may not reach those on the fringe who would turn to murder as many see the blame residing in others, not themselves.
  • Enhanced background checks will keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of murderers
    - A recent examination of 93 mass shootings from 2009 through September 2013, conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (2013), found no indication that any of the assailants were prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms because of mental illness.
  • Having armed guards at schools will protect students from active shooters
    - 28% of public schools already employ armed security personal regularly; there is no way for armed guards to sufficiently protect every single one of their students in an event of a mass shooting.

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard also points out one more important myth the study addresses:

An assault weapons ban would work
. They found that the typical weapon used is a pistol, not an “assault weapon” like the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. Assault weapons were used in 24.6 percent of mass shootings, handguns in 47.9 percent. And limiting the size of magazines weapons can carry wouldn’t help, they said, because any ban would impact new sales and “there is an ample supply of large capacity magazines already in circulation.”


So, are there any real solutions out there that would curb mass shootings in our society? Yes, but none our freedom-loving nation would likely adopt anytime soon, the researchers note.

“Taking a nibble out of the risk of mass murder, however, small, would still be a worthy goal for the nation,” the authors state. “However…eliminating the risk of mass murder would involve extreme steps that we are unable or unwilling to take—abolishing the Second Amendment, achieving full employment, restoring our sense of community, and rounding up anyone who looks or acts at all suspicious. Mass murder may just be a price we must pay for living in a society where personal freedom is so highly valued.”

H/T: The Washington Examiner

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From the report:


Myth: Mass Shootings Are on the Rise

The recent carnages in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; and elsewhere have

compelled many observers to examine the possible reasons behind the rise in mass

murder. The New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the number of schizophrenics

going untreated (Brooks, 2012). Former President Bill Clinton and other guncontrol

advocates have pointed to the expiration of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons

Ban as the culprit, while gun-rights proponents have argued that the body counts

would be lower were more Americans armed and ready to overtake an active shooter.

There is, however, one not-so-tiny flaw in all the various theories and speculations for

the presumed increase in mass shootings: Mass shootings have not increased in number

or in overall death toll, at least not over the past several decades.

The moral panic and sense of urgency surrounding mass murder have been fueled

by various claims that mass murders, and mass shootings in particular, are reaching

epidemic proportions. For example, the Mother Jones news organization, having

assembled a database of public mass shootings from 1982 through 2012, has reported

a recent surge in incidents and fatalities, including a spike and record number of casualties

in the year 2012 (Follman, Pan, & Aronsen, 2013).

It is critical to note that Mother Jones did not include all mass shootings in their

analysis but instead attempted to delineate those that were senseless, random, or at

least public in nature. Mother Jones settled on several criteria for inclusion in its mass

shootings database, specifically the following:



The shooter took the lives of at least four people;



The killings were carried out by a lone shooter;



The shootings happened during a single incident and in a public place; and



The murders were not related to armed robbery or gang activity.

By virtue of these selection rules, mass shootings involving family members were

excluded, even though they too can involve large body counts. Other massive shootings

were ignored because of their relation to gang activity or some criminal enterprise.



Not only is Mother Jones’s decision to disqualify cases based on certain criteria that

are hard to defend but also the criteria themselves were not necessarily applied consistently

(see Fox, 2013). The Columbine mass murder and the Westside Middle School

massacre, for example, were included despite the fact that both were carried out by

pairs of armed assailants. In response to criticism concerning the definitional concerns,

Mother Jones emphasized two main themes: the need to focus more narrowly

on “senseless” public shootings and the importance of investigating mass shootings

beyond just the incident counts (Follman et al., 2013). Obviously, public shootings are

worthy of discussion, but then so are mass killings in families or those that are designed

to further some criminal enterprise. Widening the net by including mass shootings in

all forms can only add to our understanding of extreme killing.

As it happens, Mother Jones’s claim concerning a rise in mass shootings doesn’t

stand when considering the full range of cases. Figure 1 displays the number of

mass shooting incidents and victims from 1976 through 2011, based on data from

the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reporting (SHR) program (along with the

missing Florida data for 1996-2011 drawn directly from the state’s homicide report

records). These reflect all 672 mass shootings with at least four fatalities reported

to local law enforcement authorities as part of the routine collection of crime statistics.

Unlike the Mother Jones approach, these data do not exclude cases based on

motive, location, or victim–offender relationship. They only exclude incidents in

which fewer than four victims (other than the assailant) were killed, murders committed

with a weapon other than a firearm, or isolated cases that may have occurred

in jurisdictions that did not report homicide data to the FBI. In addition, only

because of the usual time lag in crime reporting, the figures for 2012 were not yet


According to these expanded data, over the past few decades, there have been, on

average, nearly 20 mass shootings a year in the United States. Most, of course, werer


nowhere as deadly as the recent massacres in Aurora and Newtown that have countless

Americans believing that a new epidemic is on them and that have encouraged healthy

and often heated debate concerning causes and solutions.

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