• Tag Archives mass shootings
  • Mass Shootings Aren’t Becoming More Common–and Evidence Contradicts Stereotypes about the Shooters


    When 22 people were killed in El Paso, Texas, and nine more were killed in Dayton, Ohio, roughly 12 hours later, responses to the tragedy included many of the same myths and stereotypes Americans have grown used to hearing in the wake of a mass shooting.

    As part of my work as a psychology researcher, I study mass homicides, as well as society’s reaction to them. A lot of bad information can follow in the wake of such emotional events; clear, data-based discussions of mass homicides can get lost among political narratives.

    I’d like to clear up four common misconceptions about mass homicides and who commits them, based on the current state of research.

    By Monday morning after these latest shootings, President Donald Trump along with other Republican politicians had linked violent video games to mass shootings.

    I’ll admit my surprise, since only last year the Trump administration convened a School Safety Commission which studied this issue, among many others. I myself testified, and the commission ultimately did not conclude there was sufficient evidence to link games and media to criminal violence.

    Long-term studies of youth consistently find that violent games are not a risk factor for youth violence anywhere from one to eight years later. And no less than the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2011 that scientific studies had failed to link violent games to serious aggression in kids.

    A 2017 public policy statement by the American Psychological Association’s media psychology and technology division specifically recommended politicians should stop linking violent games to mass shootings. It’s time to lay this myth to rest.

    Early reports suggest that the El Paso shooter was a white racist concerned about Latino immigration. Other shooters, such as the perpetrator of the Christchurch, New Zealand, attack, have also been white supremacists.

    Overall, though, the ethnic composition of the group of all mass shooters in the U.S. is roughly equivalent to the American population.

    Hateful people tend to be attracted to hateful ideologies. Some shootings, such as the 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, were reportedly motivated by anti-white hatred. Other shooters, such as the 2015 San Bernardino husband and wife perpetrator team, have espoused other hateful ideas such as radical Islam.

    Most mass homicide perpetrators don’t proclaim any allegiance to a particular ideology at all.

    Of course, mass homicides in other nations—such as several deadly knife attacks in Japan—don’t involve U.S. race issues.

    As far as gender, it’s true that most mass homicide perpetrators are male. A minority of shooters are female, and they may target their own families.

    Whether mental illness is or is not related to mass shootings—or criminal violence more broadly—is a nuanced question. Frankly, proponents on both sides often get this wrong by portraying the issue as clear-cut.

    As far back as 2002, a U.S. Secret Service report based on case studies and interviews with surviving shooters identified mental illness—typically either psychosis or suicidal depression—as very common among mass homicide perpetrators.

    As for violence more broadly, mental illness, such as psychosis as well as a mixture of depression with antisocial traits, is a risk factor for violent behavior.

    Some people suggest mental illness is completely unrelated to crime, but that claim tends to rely on mangled statistics. For instance, I’ve seen the suggestion that individuals with mental illness account for just five percent of violent crimes. However, that assertion is based on research like one Swedish study that limited mental illness to psychosis only, which is experienced by about one percent or less of the population. If one percent of people commit five percent of crimes, that suggests psychosis elevates the risk of crime.

    It’s also important to point out that the vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. For instance, in one study, about 15 percent of people with schizophrenia had committed violent crimes, as compared to 4 percent of a group of people without schizophrenia. Although this clearly identifies the increase in risk, it also highlights that the majority of people with schizophrenia had not committed violent crimes. It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill, which may reduce their incentive to seek treatment.

    So improving access to mental health services would benefit a whole range of people and, by coincidence, occasionally bring treatment to someone at risk of committing violence. But focusing only on mental health is unlikely to put much of a dent in societal violence.

    Mass homicides get a lot of news coverage which keeps our focus on the frequency of their occurrence. Just how frequent is sometimes muddled by shifting definitions of mass homicide, and confusion with other terms such as active shooter.

    But using standard definitions, most data suggest that the prevalence of mass shootings has stayed fairly consistent over the past few decades.

    To be sure, the U.S. has experienced many mass homicides. Even stability might be depressing given that rates of other violent crimes have declined precipitously in the U.S. over the past 25 years. Why mass homicides have stayed stagnant while other homicides have plummeted in frequency is a question worth asking.

    Nonetheless, it does not appear that the U.S. is awash in an epidemic of such crimes, at least comparing to previous decades going back to the 1970s.

    Mass homicides are horrific tragedies and society must do whatever is possible to understand them fully in order to prevent them. But people also need to separate the data from the myths and the social, political and moral narratives that often form around crime.

    Only through dispassionate consideration of good data will society understand how best to prevent these crimes.

    This article is reprinted from the conversation.


    Christopher J. Ferguson

    Christopher Ferguson holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Central Florida. He has clinical experience particularly in working with offender and juvenile justice populations as well as conducting evaluations for child protective services. In 2013 he was awarded a Distinguished Early Career Professional Award from Division 46 (media psychology and technology) of the American Psychological Association. In 2014 he was named a fellow of the American Psychological Association through Division 1 (General Psychology, effective January, 2015). In addition to his academic work he has published a historical mystery novel entitled Suicide Kings. He lives in Casselberry, FL with his wife and son.

    He’s coauthor of “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong.”

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.


  • The Myth That the US Leads the World in Mass Shootings

    If you asked me this morning which nation has the most mass shootings in the world, I would have said, with perhaps a flicker of hesitation, the United States.

    This is a tad embarrassing to admit because I’m pretty familiar with shooting statistics, having written several articles on gun violence and the Second Amendment. Below is a basic overview of gun violence in America. While gun homicides have been steadily declining for decades in the US, mass shootings have indeed been trending upward.

    This fact alone probably would not have led me to believe that the US leads the world in mass shootings, however. An assist goes to the US media and politicians.

    “Let’s be clear,” President Obama said in 2015 after a shooting in North Carolina. “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

    Sen. Harry Reid echoed this sentiment. “The United States is the only advanced country where this kind of mass violence occurs.”

    Media headlines have left little doubt that the US leads the world in mass shootings. In fact, according to CNN, it isn’t even close.

    The comments and data seem to conclusively say that the US leads the world in mass shootings and the violence is unique, a product of “America’s gun culture.”

    It’s a slam dunk case except for one thing: it’s not true.

    Statistics on global mass shooting incidents from 2009 to 2015 compiled by economist John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center show that the US trails many other advanced nations in mass shooting frequency and death rate.

    As Investor’s Business Daily noted on these findings, “Yes, the U.S. rate is still high, and nothing to be proud of. But it’s not the highest in the developed world. Not by a long shot.”

    If this is true, how did the narrative that the US leads the world in mass shootings become the conventional wisdom? The myth, it turns out, stems from University of Alabama associate professor Adam Lankford.

    Lankford’s name pops up in a montage of media reports which cite his research as evidence that America leads the world in mass shootings. The violence, Lankford said, stems from the high rate of gun ownership in America.

    “The difference between us and other countries, [which] explains why we have more of these attackers, was the firearm ownership rate,” Lankford said. “In other words: firearms per capita. We have almost double the firearm ownership rate of any other country.”

    Lankford’s findings show that there were 90 mass public shooters in America since 1966, the most in the world, which had a total of 202. But Lott, using Lankford’s definition of a mass shooting—“four or more people killed”—found more than 3,000 such shootings, John Stossel recently reported.

    When findings do not mesh, scholars, in pursuit of truth, generally compare notes, data, and methodology to find out how they reached their conclusions. After all, who is to say Lankford doesn’t have it right and Lott is wrong? There’s just one problem: Lankford isn’t talking.

    Lankford refuses to explain his data to anyone—to Stossel, to Lott, to the Washington Post, and apparently anyone else who comes asking, including this writer. (I emailed Lankford inquiring about his research. He declined to discuss his methodology, but said he would be publishing more information about mass shooting data in the future.)

    “That’s academic malpractice,” Lott tells Stossel.

    Indeed it is. Yet, it doesn’t explain how one professor’s research was so rapidly disseminated that its erroneous claim quickly became the conventional wisdom in a country with 330 million people.

    For that, we must look to the era of narrative-driven journalism and the politicization of society, both of which subjugate truth to ideology and politics. Media and politicians latched onto Lankford’s findings in droves because his findings were convenient, not because they were true.

    This is an unsettling and ill omen for liberty. As Lawrence Reed has observed, the road to authoritarianism is paved with a “careless, cavalier, and subjective attitude toward truth.” Yet that is precisely what we see with increasing frequency in mass media. (Need I reference the Covington debacle and the Smollet hoax?)

    More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

    Twain’s quote remains true even in the age of the internet. Lankford’s erroneous research had free rein for two years and was disseminated to tens of millions of viewers and readers before the truth finally got its shoes on.

    If you ask most Americans today which country leads the world in mass shootings, I suspect a vast majority would say the US. And there’s always a price for the erosion of truth.


    Jon Miltimore

    Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times. 

    Reach him at jmiltimore@FEE.org.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.