Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown

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DOI: 10.1177/1088767913510297
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Abstract
Mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, a Colorado movie theater, and other venues have prompted a fair number of proposals for change. Advocates for tighter gun restrictions, for expanding mental health services, for upgrading security in public places, and, even, for controlling violent entertainment have made certain assumptions about the nature of mass murder that are not necessarily valid. This article examines a variety of myths and misconceptions about multiple homicide and mass shooters, pointing out some of the difficult realities in trying to avert these murderous rampages. While many of the policy proposals are worthwhile in general, their prospects for reducing the risk of mass murder are limited.
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DOI: 10.1177/1088767913510297
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Article
Mass Shootings in America:
Moving Beyond Newtown
James Alan Fox1 and Monica J. DeLateur1
Abstract
Mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, a Colorado movie theater, and
other venues have prompted a fair number of proposals for change. Advocates for
tighter gun restrictions, for expanding mental health services, for upgrading security
in public places, and, even, for controlling violent entertainment have made certain
assumptions about the nature of mass murder that are not necessarily valid. This
article examines a variety of myths and misconceptions about multiple homicide and
mass shooters, pointing out some of the difficult realities in trying to avert these
murderous rampages. While many of the policy proposals are worthwhile in general,
their prospects for reducing the risk of mass murder are limited.
Keywords
mass murder, subtypes, school shootings, trends, public policy, correlates
Calendar year 2012 offered a rich variety of hot topics for media coverage and public
debate. The political campaign season featured an unprecedented number of presiden-
tial hopefuls and televised candidate debates, while the year’s hurricane season
resulted in wide-ranging destruction, primarily from Superstorm Sandy. In addition,
the debate over universal health care culminated in the most highly anticipated U.S.
Supreme Court ruling in decades.
Nothing, however, surpassed the amount and intensity of interest, at least from a
news perspective, than the scourge of mass murder, specifically, a movie theater ram-
page in Aurora, Colorado, in July and then a public school massacre in Newtown,
Connecticut, in mid-December. As one measure of media attention, the Associated
Press’s year-end poll of news editors placed mass shootings as the leading news story
of 2012 (Associated Press, 2012).
1Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA
Corresponding Author:
James Alan Fox, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington
Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Email: J.fox@neu.edu
510297HSX18110.1177/1088767913510297Homicide StudiesFox and DeLateur
research-article2013
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126 Homicide Studies 18(1)
Even before the final death toll from the shooting spree at Newtown’s Sandy Hook
Elementary School was determined, politicians, pundits, and professors of various
disciplines were all over the media, pushing their proposals for change. Some talked
about the role of guns, others about access to mental health services, and still more
about the need for enhanced security in schools and other public places. Whatever
their agenda or the passion behind it, these advocates made certain assumptions con-
cerning patterns in mass murder and the profile of mass killers. Unfortunately, these
assumptions were not always consistent with the facts.
Until fairly recently, criminologists had all but ignored the topic of mass murder,
and mass shootings in particular (see Bowers, Holmes, & Rhom, 2010; DeLisi &
Scherer, 2006; Liwerant, 2007). Some scholars may have regarded mass killing, the
murder of four or more victims in a single episode, as merely a special case of criminal
homicide, explainable by the same criminological theories applied to single-victim
incidents and, therefore, not deserving of special treatment. Other criminologists may
have considered mass murder as primarily a matter of psychopathology—a crime per-
petrated by individuals who suffer from profound mental disorders (e.g., psychosis)
and, therefore, best analyzed through the lens of psychiatry. Finally, some may have
assumed that such incidents are not only rare but also aberrational and, therefore,
unworthy of significant research attention. More importantly, opportunities for exam-
ining mass murder in a systematic fashion have been hindered by limited availability
of primary data: Mass murderers are typically deceased, inaccessible for legal reasons,
or unwilling or unable to cooperate with research investigators (see Bowers et al.,
2010; Fox & Levin, 2003).
Perhaps because of the limited body of systematic research on mass murder, much
of the public discourse is grounded in myth and misunderstanding about the nature of
the offense and those who perpetrate it. In this article, we attempt to identify and assess
a number of these misconceptions that seem to have encouraged policy responses with
a slim probability of achieving their desired outcome—eliminating the risk of mass
murder.
Myth: Mass Murderers Snap and Kill Indiscriminately
One of the earliest systematic examinations of mass murder incidents challenged the
widespread view in the popular press and professional literature that mass murderers
are crazed lunatics who suddenly snap, go berserk, and kill indiscriminately (Levin &
Fox, 1985). Over the past few decades, moreover, this notion has persisted, at least in
the public’s mind, in large part because of the selective attention to the most extreme
and unusual cases.
However, mass murder rarely involves a sudden explosion of rage. To the contrary,
mass killers typically plan their assaults for days, weeks, or months (see, for example,
Fox & Levin, 2012; Walkup & Rubin, 2013). These preparations include where, when,
and who to kill, as well as with what weapons they will strike. These assailants are
deliberate, determined to kill, with little regard for what obstacles are placed in their
path.
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Fox and DeLateur 127
For example, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two adolescents responsible for
the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, purposely chose Hitler’s birthday for their
attack (out of admiration for the dictator’s power) and spent long hours in the woods
fine-tuning their marksmanship skills. They even conceived a grand follow-up plan
should they survive the school shooting: to hijack an airplane and fly it into the skyline
of New York City (and this was 2 years before the September 11, 2001, acts of
terrorism).
The level of detailed planning may help to explain the calm demeanor exhibited by
mass murderers, even in the midst of chaos. Witnesses to a mass shooting often report,
for example, that the gunman appeared relaxed, even smiling, while killing or injuring
dozens of innocent victims (see Aitken, Oosthuizen, Emsley, & Seedat, 2008). Mass
murderers have been known to develop and follow a mental script, one that is rehearsed
over and over again, to the point where they become comfortable with the mission.
Whatever the style of killing, the motives for mass murder are organized around
five primary themes that can occur singly or in combination (Fox & Levin, 1998).
Specifically,
1. Revenge (e.g., a deeply disgruntled individual seeks payback for a host of fail-
ures in career, school, or personal life);
2. Power (e.g., a “pseudo-commando” style massacre perpetrated by some mar-
ginalized individual attempting to wage a personal war against society);
3. Loyalty (e.g., a devoted husband/father kills his entire family and then himself
to spare them all from a miserable existence on earth and to reunite them in the
hereafter);
4. Terror (e.g., a political dissident destroys government property, with several
victims killed as “collateral damage,” to send a strong message to those in
power); and
5. Profit (e.g., a gunman executes the customers and employees at a retail store to
eliminate all witnesses to a robbery).
Among these types, revenge motivation is, by far, the most commonplace (see
Knoll, 2010; Leyton, 1986). Mass murderers often see themselves as victims—victims
of injustice (Bowers et al., 2010; Palermo, 1997). They seek payback for what they
perceive to be unfair treatment by targeting those they hold responsible for their mis-
fortunes. Most often, the ones to be punished are family members (e.g., an unfaithful
wife and all her children) or coworkers (e.g., an overbearing boss and all his employ-
ees). In such cases, there may be a primary target (which itself can be a place, such as
a company, a school, or an agency) while others are killed as surrogates, in what has
been termed “murder by proxy” (see Frazier, 1975).
Sometimes, mass murderers target an entire category of people (e.g., women, Jews,
immigrants, Whites, Blacks, etc.), constituting a hate crime in the extreme. The vic-
tims may be chosen randomly, but the type of victim or the place to find them may not
be. In such cases, strangers are punished just because of their class membership or
group association.
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128 Homicide Studies 18(1)
The rarest form of mass murder is the completely random attack (often in a public
place) committed by someone who in his or her paranoid thinking suspects that the
whole world is corrupt and unfair (Petee, Padgett, & York, 1997). The level of para-
noia may be truly psychotic (e.g., God, the President, or some other powerful entity is
behind a wide-ranging conspiracy) or involve a lesser form of paranoid personality
disorder in which the perpetrator consistently misconstrues innocent acts or gestures
by others as purposely malicious.
Even though most mass murderers deliberately target specific people or places, it
is, of course, the seemingly senseless random massacres that are the most frightening
to people. After all, they can happen at any place, at any time, and to anyone—usually
without warning—and, for this reason, random acts of mass murder, although the least
frequent form, receive the most attention by the mass media and the public alike.
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 schizo-
phrenics going untreated (Brooks, 2012). Former President Bill Clinton and other gun-
control 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 num-
ber 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 casu-
alties 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.
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Fox and DeLateur 129
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 consis-
tently (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 con-
cerns, 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 statis-
tics. 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 com-
mitted 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
available.
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, were
0
25
50
75
100
125
150
76 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96 98 00 02 04 06 08 10
Year
IncidentsVicms
Figure 1. Mass shootings in the United States, 1976-2011.
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130 Homicide Studies 18(1)
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.
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 (see Duwe, 2004). What is abundantly clear
from the full array of mass shootings is the largely random variability in the annual
counts (Best, 2013). There have been several points in time when journalists and oth-
ers have speculated about a possible epidemic in response to a flurry of high-profile
shootings. Yet, these speculations have always proven to be incorrect when subsequent
years reveal more moderate levels.
The year 1991, for example, saw a 35-year-old gunman kill 23 people at a cafeteria
in Killeen, Texas, and a disgruntled graduate student murder 5 at the University of
Iowa, along with other sensationalized incidents. The surge in mass killings was so
frightening that a rumor spread throughout the nation that there would be a mass mur-
der at a college in the Northeast on Halloween (Farrish, 1991). Fortunately, October 31
came and went without anything close to a massacre taking place.
And as of this writing, more than one third of the way into 2013, Mother Jones has
identified but one incident that fits its definition of a senseless mass shooting. If this is
any indication, the tendency for bad years to be followed by better ones will hold true
once again.
Myth: Recent Mass Murders Involve Record-Setting Body
Counts
If anything has increased with regard to mass murder, it is the public’s fear, anxiety,
and widely held belief that the problem is getting worse (see Baldassare, Bonner,
Petek, & Shrestha, 2013). Unquestionably, this perception is linked to the style and
pervasiveness of news-media coverage, owing in large part to advances in technology
(Heath & Gilbert, 1996). In 1966, when Charles Whitman opened fire from atop the
307-foot tower at the University of Texas in Austin, there were no 24-hr news stations
or fleets of satellite trucks to relay images of tragedy as they unfolded. CNN wasn’t
born until the 1980s, and the other major cable news outlets not until much later.
Today, of course, the American public can watch chilling live coverage of some far-
away mass shooting by turning on their high-definition television screens, making it
feel as if the event is happening just down the street.
The emotional impact of the Sandy Hook slaughter was intensified by the imme-
diacy of news reports. Young children, their eyes fresh with tears and their faces filled
with terror from just having fled their embattled school building, were swarmed by
reporters holding microphones and cameras. The news coverage of Sandy Hook had
Americans glued to their TV sets. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll of more than
1,000 adults, half the respondents watched the news reporting “very closely,” while
90% indicated watching at least “somewhat closely” (Saad, 2012).
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Fox and DeLateur 131
The extensive news focus on school shootings certainly had an impact on percep-
tion and fear. The same USA Today/Gallup poll found that nearly one quarter of those
surveyed believed that a shooting spree such as Sandy Hook was “very likely” to occur
in their own community and more than half thought that it was at least “somewhat
likely” (Saad, 2012).
Meanwhile, as news of the Sandy Hook shooting was still unfolding and before any
perpetrator or motive was identified, scores of journalists were asking whether this
was the worst school shooting in history. It didn’t matter that deadlier episodes had
occurred overseas (the 2004 school siege in Russia), at a college setting (Virginia Tech
in 2007) or involving means other than gunfire (the 1927 school explosion in Bath,
Michigan), reporters were eager to declare the Sandy Hook massacre as some type of
new record (see Best, 2013).
When it comes to news reporting, the penchant for some journalists to characterize
tragedy as some kind of record is mystifying. Whether the latest massacre is in any
sense the worst doesn’t change the associated pain and suffering of the victims, their
families, and the community at large.
At the same time, there is a definite downside to media overexposure and obsession
with records, and that is the possibility that some like-minded and obscure individual
will see an opportunity for recognition and perhaps a chance to break a record for
bloodshed (Dietz, 1986). Of course, the overwhelming majority of Americans who
watch the news about a mass shooting identify with the pain and suffering of the vic-
tims and their families. However, a few individuals instead identify with the power of
the perpetrator, empathize with his or her frustrations, and maybe even admire his or
her instant but undeserved celebrity.
The dynamics of imitation and reinforced learning suggest that people are far
more likely to model the behavior of others if they perceive the act as reaping some
reward (see Bandura, 1978). Many rational adults would question how compelling
Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris could be as role models when, at
the end of the school day, they were found lying dead from self-inflicted gunshot
wounds. However, teenagers can often interpret outcomes very differently from their
parents. To an unhappy, alienated adolescent, the two gunmen could be seen as
heroes: Not only had they avenged the bullying, intimidation, and acts of ostracism
that are commonplace in sprawling high schools such as Columbine but also they
were famous for it. When TIME magazine placed the gunmen on its May 3, 1999,
cover with the headline “The Monsters Next Door,” most readers saw the “cover
boys” as just that—monsters. A few like-minded teenagers would have considered
them celebrities who had the courage to get even, to claim a victory for bullying vic-
tims everywhere (see Paton, 2012).
There are many curious examples of copycat offending, and not just among chil-
dren and adolescents. The U.S. Postal Service suffered a series of shootings, beginning
with the 1986 massacre of 14 postal employees in Edmond, Oklahoma, from which
came the well-known phrase, “going postal.” Some of these perpetrators spoke openly
about other postal rampages that had preceded their own. Adam Lanza, the Sandy
Hook school shooter, was reportedly obsessed with Anders Breivik, a Norwegian mass
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132 Homicide Studies 18(1)
murderer responsible for killing 77 people, and he, in turn, was fascinated with the
notorious Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.
This so-called “copycat effect,” while widely embraced in the popular press, has
received only limited attention in scholarly research, and mostly in the area of suicide
(see Coleman, 2004). Sociologist David Phillips (1982) gave the imitation hypothesis
more than a modicum of credibility with a series of studies related to the publicity sur-
rounding suicides and subsequent increases in attempted or completed suicides.
Phillips similarly observed, based on quasi-experimental time series data, a lagged
impact of executions and major prize fights on rates of homicide (Phillips, 1983).
Phillips’s findings, however, have been seriously criticized for violation of model
assumptions and for capitalizing on chance results (Baron & Reiss, 1985).
Given the paucity of hard evidence about the exact magnitude of copycatting, par-
ticularly with regard to multiple murders, we are left with but an array of anecdotes
suggesting how mass murderers were drawn to those who perpetrated similar crimes.
Even then, there is no certainty that the murders would not have occurred regardless
of modeling. At best, copycatting might influence the form, and not necessarily the
inspiration, for mass murder.
Whatever the extent of imitation, it is important that media coverage not obsess
over large and especially record-setting body counts and avoid the tendency to sensa-
tionalize already sensational events (see Duwe, 2000). Indeed, there is a critical dis-
tinction between shedding light on a crime and a spotlight on the criminal.
Myth: Violent Entertainment, Especially Video Games,
Are Causally Linked to Mass Murder
Besides the imitation of notorious crimes and criminals, fictional portrayals of vio-
lence can provide a source for modeling behavior. Certainly, concern over the negative
impact of violent entertainment extends back generations. Yet, the realism offered by
today’s entertainment options has intensified the debate.
It can be tempting to try to implicate entertainment media—especially video games—
for various stunning episodes of extreme violence. A Gallup poll taken in the wake of the
April, 1999, Columbine massacre found that 62% of the more than 1,000 adults sur-
veyed nationwide felt that entertainment media was a major cause of school violence
(Newport, 1999), and 83% supported restrictions on sales of violent media to children
(see Carlson, 2002). Furthermore, a Gallup poll of approximately 1,000 adults nation-
wide taken immediately following the December 2012, Sandy Hook shooting found that
78% of respondents believed that reducing the depiction of gun violence in entertain-
ment media would be effective in decreasing the risk of mass shootings (Newport, 2012).
It is not surprising that most schoolyard shooters and many adult mass murderers
played violent video games in their spare time. To be sure, violent people are often
attracted to violent entertainment, on TV, in film, or through game consoles. However, the
ability to document a direct causal link indicating that consuming violent entertainment
leads to violent behavior has eluded social science researchers for years (Brief of Social
Scientists et al., 2010; Ferguson, 2011; Grimes, Anderson, & Bergen, 2008).
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Fox and DeLateur 133
Much was written in the popular press about the fact that Sandy Hook shooter
Adam Lanza spent long hours alone in the basement of his Newtown home playing
violent video games (see, for example, Edelman, 2013). However, his gaming may be
more a symptom of his personality and temperament than the cause. As a socially
awkward youngster, reportedly with Asperger’s syndrome, his social isolation may be
the key to his preoccupation with gaming as well as his rampage against an unwelcom-
ing society.
The entertainment industry has, at times, been used as a convenient scapegoat, and
censorship as an easy solution. Lawsuits directed against various media organizations
have occasionally been launched, albeit unsuccessfully, when it was discovered that
some mass murderer had been obsessed with violent entertainment. Such concerns
also led to the passage of a 2005 California ban on the sale of violent video games to
minors, although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately judged the prohibition to be
unconstitutional in a 7-2 decision (Brown, Governor of California, et al., v.
Entertainment Media Association et al., 2011). It has long been easy to point fingers
at this profitable industry, while ignoring some of the root causes of violence that are
much more difficult to resolve.
To the extent that youngsters spend endless hours being entertained by violence
says more about the lack of parental supervision and control. It isn’t that the entertain-
ment media are so powerful; it is that our other institutions—family, school, religion,
and neighborhood—have grown weaker with respect to socializing children (see
Flannery, Modzeleski, & Kretschmar, 2013; Paton, 2012). Banning violent entertain-
ment may be an easy fix, especially when policymakers are unwilling or unable to deal
with the more fundamental causes of violence.
Myth: Greater Attention and Response to the Telltale
Warning Signs Will Allow Us to Identify Would-Be Mass
Killers Before They Act
In the aftermath of an extremely violent episode, survivors typically question why
certain warning signs were ignored. The warning sign can even come in the form of
overt or veiled threats articulated by the soon-to-become mass murderer—a process
that has been termed “leakage” (O’Toole, 2008). If anything, these indicators are yel-
low flags that only turn red once the blood has spilled and are identified in the after-
math of tragedy with crystal-clear hindsight.
There certainly exist a number of common features in the profile of a mass shooter.
As shown in Table 1, they are overwhelmingly male (more than 95% are male), more
often Caucasian (nearly two thirds are White), and older than murderers in general
(half are more than 30 years of age). Beyond just these demographics, mass killers
tend to share a number of psychological and behavioral characteristics, including
depression, resentment, social isolation, the tendency to externalize blame, fascination
with graphically violent entertainment, and a keen interest in weaponry (see Fox &
Levin, 2003). However, these characteristics, even in combination, are fairly prevalent
in the general population.
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134 Homicide Studies 18(1)
Profiles and checklists designed to predict rare events—such as mass shootings—
tend to over-predict, producing a large number of “false positives” (see Chaiken et al.,
1994; Norko & Baranoski, 2008). Many people may closely match the profile—angry,
frustrated folks who are reclusive, quick to blame others for their shortcomings and
make threatening remarks—but very few will in fact commit murder, much less mass
murder (see Bjelopera, Bagalman, Caldwell, Finklea, & McCallion, 2013; Ferguson,
Coulson, & Barnett, 2011; Mulvey & Cauffman, 2001).
In addition, aggressive attempts to single out potential troublemakers before they
make trouble can potentially do more harm than good by stigmatizing, marginalizing,
and traumatizing already troubled individuals. If they already feel mistreated, then
focused interventions, even if benevolent, can easily be misinterpreted as further evi-
dence of persecution, thereby encouraging a violent outburst rather than discouraging
it (see Fox & Levin, 1994, 2012; Lakeman, 1997).
Myth: Widening the Availability of Mental Health
Services Will Allow Unstable Individuals to Get the
Treatment They Need and Avert Mass Murders
Recent mass shootings at the hands of seemingly disturbed individuals have prompted
mental health advocates to push for increased access to treatment. Unfortunately,
countless Americans suffer from depression and loneliness. Many go without the psy-
chiatric treatment that they desperately need but perhaps cannot afford.
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Mass Shooters, 1976-2011.
Demographic characteristic n%
Offender sex
Male 506 95.8
Female 22 4.2
Total 528 100.0
Offender race
White 321 62.0
Black 171 33.0
Other 26 5.0
Total 518 100.0
Offender age
Under 20 63 12.2
20-29 196 38.1
30-39 127 24.7
40-49 95 18.4
50 and above 34 6.6
Total 515 100.0
Note. The total count of 692 was reduced because of unknown offender characteristics.
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Fox and DeLateur 135
It would certainly be a fitting legacy to the tragedy in Newtown if mental health ser-
vices were expanded and improved. However, greater access to treatment options may
not necessarily reach the few individuals on the fringe who would seek to turn a school,
a shopping mall, or a movie theater into their own personal war zone. With their ten-
dency to externalize blame and consider themselves as victims of mistreatment, mass
murderers see the problem to reside in others, not themselves (Knoll, 2012). If urged or
even coerced to seek counseling, the would-be mass murderer would likely resist angrily
to the suggestion that something is wrong with him or her. He or she desires fair treat-
ment, not psychological treatment (see, for example, Fox & Levin, 1994).
In the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings, political leaders often rally to
address the needs of the mentally ill. Unfortunately, this timing tends to stigmatize the
vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness as if they too are mass murder-
ers in waiting (see Barry, McGinty, Vernick, & Webster, 2013). However, no clear
relationship between psychiatric diagnosis and mass murder has been established (see
Busch & Cavanaugh, 1986; Dietz, 1986; Taylor & Gunn, 1999).
In addition, the sudden initiative to aid the psychologically impaired may be the
right thing to do but for the wrong reason. For example, during an April 8, 2013,
speech in Hartford, Connecticut, delivered months after the Sandy Hook school shoot-
ing, President Barack Obama (2013) urged Congress to respond: “We need to help
people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it is
too late” [italics added]. We should endeavor to help the mentally ill out of concern for
their well-being, not just because we are worried about the well-being of those they
might kill (Swanson, 2008).
Myth: Enhanced Background Checks Will Keep
Dangerous Weapons Out of the Hands of These Madmen
If one thing is predictable about mass shootings, it is that they will spark heated debate
over gun control. Many public officials and private citizens alike insist that we must
find a way to keep guns away from our most dangerous element (see Barry et al., 2013;
Best, 2013). However, they are often blinded by passion and anger from confronting
the practical limitations to achieving that desirable objective.
Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hos-
pitalization (Dietz, 1986). They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weap-
ons legally. A recent examination of 93 mass shootings from January 2009 through
September 2013, conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (2013), found no indica-
tion that any of the assailants were prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms
because they had been adjudicated mentally ill or had been involuntarily committed
for treatment. And in just 10 of the 93 cases, there was evidence that concerns about
the mental health of the shooter had been brought to the attention of a medical practi-
tioner or legal authority prior to the shooting spree.
People cannot be denied their Second Amendment rights just because they look strange
or act in an odd manner. Moreover, would-be mass killers can usually find an alternative
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136 Homicide Studies 18(1)
Table 3. Weapons Used in Public Mass Shootings.
Type of firearm n%
Assault weapons 35 24.6
Semiautomatic handguns 68 47.9
Revolvers 20 14.1
Shotguns 19 13.4
Total 142 100.0
Source. Mother Jones database of mass shootings, 1982-2012.
way of securing the needed weaponry. Several mass shooters have used firearms pur-
chased, borrowed, or stolen from a family member or friend (see Follman et al., 2013).
Myth: Restoring the Federal Ban on Assault Weapons
Will Prevent These Horrible Crimes
In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, many media pundits and political leaders
alike decried the expiration of the 1994 federal ban on certain military-style assault
weapons. However, a comparison of the incidence of mass shootings during the 10-year
window when the assault weapon ban was in force against the time periods before imple-
mentation and after expiration shows that the legislation had virtually no effect, at least
in terms of murder in an extreme form. As shown in Table 2, based on SHR data from
1976 to 2011, the average incidence and victimization level during the federal prohibi-
tion was not especially different than in the years before or after the law was operative.
The overwhelming majority of mass murderers use firearms that would not be
restricted by an assault weapons ban (see Duwe, 2007). Moreover, the Mother Jones
data, notwithstanding the questions surrounding inclusions/exclusions, suggest that
assault weapons are not as commonplace in mass shootings as some gun-control advo-
cates believe. As shown in Table 3, semiautomatic handguns are far more prevalent in
random massacres than firearms that would typically be classified as assault weapons
(Follman et al., 2013). In fact, only one quarter of these mass murderers killed with an
assault weapon; they easily could have identified an alternate means of mass casualty
if that were necessary.
Table 2. Mass Shootings and the Federal Assault Weapon Ban.
Time period
Incidents Victims
Total Average Total Average
1976-1994 335 17.6 1,536 80.8
1995-2004 193 19.3 876 87.6
2005-2011 144 20.6 699 99.9
Source. Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976-2011.
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Fox and DeLateur 137
In an analysis of mass shootings from January 2009 through September 2013,
Mayors Against Illegal Guns (2013) confirmed the limited role of military-style assault
weapons. Only 14 of the 93 incidents examined by this gun-control group involved
assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. Of course, limiting the size of ammuni-
tion clips would at least compel a gunman to pause to reload or switch weapons,
potentially giving others a brief window of opportunity to escape or even intervene
(see Barry et al., 2013; Best, 2013). However, such an initiative would likely affect
only newly produced accessories. Unfortunately, there is an ample supply of large-
capacity magazines already in circulation for anyone determined enough to locate one.
Myth: Expanding “Right to Carry” Provisions Will Deter
Mass Killers or at Least Stop Them in Their Tracks and
Reduce the Body Counts
The potential for citizens to counterattack while an assailant stops to reload is but one
reason why many gun-rights advocates argue against gun restrictions, at least for law-
abiding, licensed gun owners. Specifically, many argue that the establishment of gun-
free zones (e.g., schools, churches, courthouses, and other government buildings)
makes citizens vulnerable to attacks by armed assailants.
Proponents for expanding concealed carry rights contend that having more people
armed in public spaces would not only serve as a deterrent but also permit citizens to
overpower an armed assailant. Whatever the deterrent or intervention effects, detrac-
tors have voiced concern that a sudden shootout between an assailant and citizens
armed with concealed weapons could potentially catch countless innocent victims in
the crossfire. As mentioned, mass killers are often described by surviving witnesses as
being relaxed and calm during their rampages, owing to their level of planning. In
contrast, the rest of us are taken by surprise and typically respond frantically.
Whether or not permitting concealed carry impacts the risk of mass murder is, of
course, an empirical question, and not just a debate involving hypotheticals. Using a
Poisson regression approach, Lott and Landes (2000) analyzed the effect of right-to-
carry laws in 23 states on the incidence and magnitude of multiple-victim homicide
over the time frame of 1977-1995, concluding that such legislation works to suppress
the risk and extent of mass violence. However, Duwe, Kovandzic, and Moody (2002),
applying the more flexible and appropriate negative binomial model to a time frame
expanded through 1999, concluded that the effect of right-to-carry laws was negligi-
ble, neither encouraging nor discouraging mass shootings.
The debate over an armed citizenry has focused specifically on schools and the need
to protect vulnerable populations of students from armed assailants. Since the Newtown
shooting, lawmakers in as many as six states have promoted legislation to arm school-
teachers and train them to shoot. And, based on a nationwide poll by the Gallup organi-
zation, nearly two thirds of Americans see merit in this idea (Newport, 2012).
Supporters of firearms-for-faculty laws argue that ever since the early 1990s, when
the U.S. Congress established schools as gun-free zones, an armed assailant, be it a stu-
dent-insider or a stranger-intruder, could be assured to face little opposition. The belief
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138 Homicide Studies 18(1)
is that arming teachers and administrators might serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone
contemplating a Columbine-style school shooting. It is hard to imagine, however, that a
vengeful student, who is willing to die by police gunfire or by his or her own hand,
would be dissuaded by knowing that the faculty were armed. He may even welcome the
chance to shoot it out with the principal at high noon in the school cafeteria.
The debate over guns on campus has been particularly contentious with regard to
institutions of higher education. The national grassroots organization Students for
Concealed Carry has had some success in convincing legislators that the body count in
episodes such as the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people were slain, would be
reduced were properly licensed and trained students allowed to carry guns to class.
However, in light of the low rate of serious violence on campus and the high prevalence
of substance abuse and depression among college students, it would seem ill-advised to
encourage gun carrying by anyone other than duly sworn public safety personnel.
Myth: Increasing Physical Security in Schools and Other
Places Will Prevent Mass Murder
The immediate response to deadly shootings in schools and other buildings is typically a
call for enhanced physical security (see Lassiter & Perry, 2009; Trump, 2011). In the short
term, access control and close surveillance may calm the fears of an anxious public. In the
long run, it is equally important to avoid transforming our public spaces into fortresses.
Out of concern for the safety of the most vulnerable members of society, schools at
all levels have seen the need to invest significant resources in physical security mea-
sures. As shown in Table 4, public schools have particularly embraced access control
strategies as well as surveillance technology. Despite the tremendous suffering that
would come from a school shooting, the exceptionally low probability of such an event
would argue against excessive levels of security (Fox & Burstein, 2010). Children
should not be constantly reminded of their vulnerability, suggesting that they have a
target on their backs. It hardly serves the primary mission of educating students.
Although generally effective in protecting a student population, most security mea-
sures serve only as a minor inconvenience for those who are determined to cause
mayhem (see Fox & Burstein, 2010; Rocque, 2012; Trump, 2000). Two middle school
students in Arkansas, for example, didn’t bother trying to bring guns into school. They
only had to pull the fire alarm and wait outside in the schoolyard for their human tar-
gets to emerge from the building.
Myth: Having Armed Guards at Every School Will Serve
to Protect Students From an Active Shooter and Provide
a Deterrent as Well
In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director of the
National Rifle Association (NRA), suggested that we equip every school in America—
schools of every size, level, and type—with an armed guard. Central to the set of
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Fox and DeLateur 139
Table 4. Percentage of Public Schools With Various Safety and Security Measures.
School safety and security
measure
School year
1999-2000 2003-2004 2005-2006 2007-2008 2009-2010
Controlled access during school hours
Buildings (e.g., locked or
monitored doors)
74.6 83.0 84.9 89.5 91.7
Grounds (e.g., locked or
monitored gates)
33.7 36.2 41.1 42.6 46.0
Closed the campus for most
students
64.6 66.0 66.1 65.0 66.9
Required to wear badges or picture IDs
Students 3.9 6.4 6.1 7.6 6.9
Faculty and staff 25.4 48.0 47.8 58.3 62.9
Metal detector checks on students
Random checks 7.2 5.6 4.9 5.3 5.2
Required to pass through
daily
0.9 1.1 1.1 1.3 1.4
Sweeps and technology
Random sweeps for
contraband
11.8 12.8 13.1 11.4 12.1
Provided telephones in most
classrooms
44.6 60.8 66.8 71.6 74.0
Notification system for
school-wide emergency
NA NA NA 43.2 63.1
Anonymous threat reporting
system
NA NA NA 31.2 35.9
Used security cameras to
monitor the school
19.4 36.0 42.8 55.0 61.1
Visitor requirements
Sign in or check in 96.6 98.3 97.6 98.7 99.3
Dress code
Required students to wear
uniforms
11.8 13.8 13.8 17.5 18.9
Enforced a strict dress code 47.4 55.1 55.3 54.8 56.9
School supplies and equipment
No book bags or clear-only
ones
5.9 6.2 6.4 6.0 5.5
Provided school lockers to
students
46.5 49.5 50.6 48.9 52.1
Source. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime
and Safety 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010.
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140 Homicide Studies 18(1)
Table 5. Percentage of Public Schools With Security Personnel.
School
characteristics
%t of schools with security guards
or sworn police officers
% of schools with regularly armed
security personnel
2005-2006 2007-2008 2009-2010 2005-2006 2007-2008 2009-2010
All public schools 41.7 46.3 42.8 30.7 34.1 28.0
Grade level
Primary school 26.2 33.1 27.7 15.7 20.1 12.5
Middle school 63.7 65.5 66.4 51.8 54.2 51.0
High school 75.2 79.6 76.4 64.0 67.5 63.3
Combined school 43.5 39.9 36.6 32.4 32.1 24.6
Enrollment size
Less than 300 22.7 27.6 25.6 16.2 16.1 13.5
300-499 29.8 36.1 33.5 20.5 26.7 19.8
500-999 50.5 52.7 47.3 36.9 39.5 30.3
1,000 or more 86.9 90.6 90.0 70.3 73.5 74.6
Locale
City 49.1 57.3 50.9 30.5 33.1 27.6
Suburb 42.7 45.4 45.4 32.2 33.7 29.6
Town 44.4 51.1 39.0 38.1 45.0 31.6
Rural 33.8 36.0 35.2 27.1 30.5 25.3
Percent minority enrollment
Below 5% 28.3 35.6 30.4 22.9 27.1 21.9
5% up to 20% 38.9 42.9 36.5 30.2 37.7 27.6
20% up to 50% 41.6 44.7 41.9 35.3 38.4 30.5
50% and above 51.3 55.4 52.5 31.3 31.8 29.1
Source. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2005-2006, 2007-2008,
and 2009-2010 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2006, 2008, and 2010.
recommendations advanced by an NRA-sponsored task force is for schools to be suf-
ficiently prepared to ward off any dangerous intruder (see Hutchinson, 2013).
Actually, as shown in Table 5, many schools, especially high schools and those in
urban areas, already use security personnel, often equipped with firearms.
Notwithstanding the many benefits to employing well-trained school resource officers
(Rich-Shea, 2010) as a deterrent to mass shootings, this too is limited. Columbine
High School, in fact, had school resource officers on duty the day in 1999 when two
alienated adolescents turned their school into a war zone. Columbine was a fairly large
campus with nearly 2,000 students enrolled, and the officers couldn’t be everywhere
at once.
If armed guards and armed teachers are indeed worthy strategies for protecting
children, then what should schools do to protect the students before and after school?
Expanding this approach would dictate providing weapons to coaches, athletic direc-
tors, and even bus drivers.
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Fox and DeLateur 141
Conclusion
The fact that gun control, expanded psychiatric services, and increased security mea-
sures are limited in their ability to prevent dreadful mass shootings doesn’t mean that
we shouldn’t try. In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, there was
momentum in Washington, D.C., and in various state legislatures to establish policies
and procedures designed to make us all safer.
Gun restrictions and other initiatives may not stop the next mass murderer, wher-
ever he or she may strike, but we can enhance the well-being of millions of Americans
in the process. Besides, doing something is better than doing nothing. At least, it will
reduce the debilitating feeling of helplessness.
Many of the well-intentioned proposals coming in response to the recent spike in
mass shootings may do much to affect the level of violent crime that plagues our
nation daily. We shouldn’t, however, expect such efforts to take a big bite out of crime
in its most extreme form. Of course, taking a nibble out of the risk of mass murder,
however small, would still be a worthy goal for the nation. However, those who have
suggested that their plan for change will ensure that a crime such as the Sandy Hook
massacre will never reoccur will be bitterly disappointed.
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 just may be a price we must pay for living in a society where
personal freedom is so highly valued.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Fox and DeLateur 145
Author Biographies
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at
Northeastern University. He has published 18 books, including Extreme Killing: Understanding
Serial and Mass Murder (Sage 2012), co-authored with Jack Levin.
Monica J. DeLateur is a doctoral student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at
Northeastern University. Her current research explores sentencing outcomes and decisions to
prosecute, particularly in human trafficking cases.
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  • ... School shootings have been a subject of media and academic interest ever since the Columbine massacre in 1999, which started a spree of school shootings globally Böckler, Seeger, Sitzer, & Heitmeyer, 2013;Larkin, 2009;Sandberg, Oksanen, Berntzen, & Kiilakoski, 2014). School shootings are statistically rare (Borum, Cornell, Modzeleski, & Jimerson, 2010;Ferguson, Coulson, & Barnett, 2011;Wike & Fraser, 2009), but they are heavily publicized and thus have effects beyond the places they occur (Borum et al., 2010;Fox & DeLateur, 2014). Due to social media and online news, information on new school shooting sprees travels around the world almost instantly (Muschert & Sumiala, 2012). ...
    Article
    School shootings and terrorism attacks share many similarities, but these acts are often studied in separate research fields. Therefore, authors of studies on school shootings have not discussed radicalization of the perpetrators in depth, even though in terrorism studies radicalization is a highly researched theme. Online radicalization is even less studied in the school shooting context. Using opinion radicalization theory developed in terrorism studies, we analyzed online interviews (n = 22) with people deeply interested in school shootings. The analysis showed that people deeply interested in school shootings can be divided into three different groups based on the radicalness of their opinions toward school shootings: those with neutral opinions, sympathizers, and those interested in conducting a massacre. Data also indicate that becoming deeply interested in school shootings seems to strengthen an individual’s opinions more than it changes them. Research and risk assessment of school shootings should focus more on the radicalization process of school shooters, because it is also done in the area of terrorism studies. The results imply that online school shooting communities have unused potential in the prevention of school shootings.
  • ... These events tend to capture the public's attention and receive substantial news coverage. For example, in 2012, news editors, in an Associated Press year-end poll, placed mass shootings as the leading news stories for that year (Fox & DeLateur, 2014). Similarly, The New York Times ranked mass shooting stories among its 100 most read stories in 2015, 2017, and 2018. ...
    Article
    Public mass shootings tend to capture the public's attention and receive substantial coverage in both traditional media and online social networks (OSNs) and have become a salient topic in them. Motivated by this, the overarching objective of this paper is to advance our understanding of how the public responds to mass shooting events in such media outlets. Specifically, it aims to examine whether distinct information seeking patterns emerge over time and space, and whether associations between public mass shooting events emerge in online activities and discourse. Towards this objective, we study a sequence of five public mass shooting events that have occurred in the United States between October 2017 and May 2018 across three major dimensions: the public's online information seeking activities, the media coverage, and the discourse that emerges in a prominent OSN. To capture these dimensions, respectively, data was collected and analyzed from Google Trends, LexisNexis, Wikipedia Page views, and Twitter. The results of our analysis suggest that distinct temporal patterns emerge in the public's information seeking activities across different platforms, and that associations between an event and its preceding events emerge both in the media coverage and in OSNs. Studying the evolution of discourse in OSNs provides a valuable lens to observe how society's views on public mass shooting events are formed and evolved over time and space. The ability to analyze such data allows tapping into the dynamics of reshaping and reframing public mass shooting events in the public sphere and enable it to be closely studied and modeled. A deeper understanding of this process, along with the emerging associations drawn between such events, can then provide policy and decision‐makers with opportunities to better design policies and communicate the significance of their goals and objectives to the public.
  • ... There is reason to believe patterns of firearm acquisition may be specifically associated with mass violence attack imminence. The majority of firearms used in recent mass shootings were purchased legally (Fox & DeLateur, 2014) often in considerable numbers over a short period of time (Smith, Damphousse, & Roberts, 2006;Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002). In a particularly stark case, Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 people and left more than 500 injured, purchased more than 30 firearms in the year before the shooting and had a record of purchasing firearms dating back more than 20 years, including a number of firearms recorded in California's Automated Firearm System (AFS). ...
    Article
    Research Summary In this article, we detail recent efforts in California to identify and target high‐risk firearm owners to help prevent firearm violence, including mass shootings. We begin by describing gun violence restraining orders, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which provide a judicial mechanism for firearm recovery and a time‐limited prohibition on firearm purchases. Next, we discuss California's Armed and Prohibited Persons (APPS) database and enforcement system. APPS is used to identify newly prohibited persons among legal firearm owners and to help law enforcement recover those firearms. Finally, we highlight early research in which machine learning for rare event detection is employed to forecast individual risk using California's decades worth of firearm transaction records and other readily available administrative data. Policy Implications The approaches described range in scale, scope, and strategy, but all three allow for targeted intervention at times of heightened risk. In so doing, they offer the potential to provide outsized benefits to efforts to prevent mass violence.
  • ... The infrequency with which they occur, however, makes it challenging to predict with accuracy who will commit a mass public shooting or to develop policies designed to reduce their incidence or severity. Therefore, as Fox and DeLateur (2014) suggested, it may be unrealistic to assume that policy proposals targeting mass shootings in particular would, individually or collectively, prevent a catastrophic attack from ever taking place in the future. Rather than crafting measures to attempt to address mass public shootings, it may be more effective to focus on strategies that have shown promise in reducing violence in general. ...
    Article
    Research Summary Mass shootings have been identified as a novel American crime problem. The term is merely a new name, however, for an older crime problem—mass murder. The social construction of the mass shooting and mass murder problems have both been driven by “mass public shootings”—incidents that occur in the absence of other criminal activity (e.g., robberies, drug deals, and gang “turf wars”) in which a gun was used to kill four or more victims at a public location within a 24‐hour period. Using data on 845 mass shootings, including 158 mass public shootings, which occurred in the United States between 1976 and 2018, in this study, I analyze trends in their prevalence and severity (i.e., number of victims killed and wounded). After controlling for growth in the U.S. population, the results show the late 1980s and early 1990s had the highest incidence of mass shootings. Both the incidence and severity of mass public shootings, on the other hand, have increased over the last decade. I also describe the patterns of mass public shootings by reporting incident and offender characteristics. Policy Implications Despite the recent growth in mass public shootings, the infrequency with which they occur makes it very challenging to develop broad measures that will reduce their incidence or severity. It may therefore be more effective to focus on strategies that that have shown promise in decreasing violence in general.
  • ... Criminologists have mostly ignored public mass violence until recently, and important gaps in our knowledge base remain (Fox & DeLateur, 2014; see also Bowers, Holmes, & Rhom, 2010;DeLisi & Scherer, 2006;Gill, Silver, Horgan, & Corner, 2017;Huff-Corzine et al., 2014;Liwerant, 2007). The recent increased attention to this issue is partially a result of rising levels of public concern that coincide with a growing number of high-profile incidents (Duwe, 2000(Duwe, , 2004(Duwe, , 2007Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). ...
    Article
    In this article, we argue that situational crime prevention (SCP) strategies can be used to prevent public mass violence, as well as to mitigate the harms caused from those attacks that still occur. We draw from the SCP perspective generally, and its application to terrorism particularly, as well as from the public mass violence literature. We focus on the pillars of opportunity that include target selection, weapon selection, tools used, and conditions that facilitate public mass violence attacks. We conclude that SCP's EVIL DONE risk assessment template could be refined for the public mass violence context. We argue that the exposed, occupied, nearer, and easy dimensions, along with a newly created personal grievance dimension, could be used to identify more at‐risk settings that should receive more situational interventions to prevent these attacks. We similarly conclude that SCP's other pillars could be used to prevent these attacks. We outline specific hard and soft interventions that could thwart these attacks. Importantly, we use examples to illustrate that SCP's strategies could effectively mitigate the harms caused by public mass violence attacks that do occur. We also set forth research strategies to test our claims.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the American public has repeatedly witnessed the carnage and tragic consequences of mass school shootings. Using a national survey of American adults (N = 1,100) conducted between May 30 and June 6, 2018 in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, this project explores public opinion on why these events occur. Informed by sociological scholarship on social movements and framing, the analysis shows that the public endorses both gun and non-gun attributional frames for school shootings. What appears to most strongly influence the resonance of both types of attributional frames, by affecting their narrative fidelity, is racial resentment, seeing the world as dangerous, and ideological beliefs. The attributional frames that respondents endorse, in turn, serve as “anchors” for their social action beliefs—or vocabularies of motive—with gun attributions increasing both confidence in and support for the #NeverAgain movement.
  • Article
    Solidarity is a common response after a mass shooting. Social media and social media affordances, such as hashtags, are valuable technological tools after such events. How does social media facilitate the response to mass shootings? In particular, how do platform affordances shape solidarity practices? To this end, I analyzed Instagram images tagged #LafayetteStrong 2 years after a mass shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana. I observed several solidarity-inspired themes including material objects, community events and landmarks, references to support and reflection, and photographs as advertisements. I argue that Instagram affords a mediated form of solidarity, visually documenting ritualized community practices, while also facilitating individualized and subjective interpretations of solidarity. Users exploited Instagram’s affordances for advertisement purposes, capitalizing on a community-centered hashtag. These findings contribute to the sociological literature on mass shootings, the visual construction of solidarity, and the influence of technology.
  • Article
    In this article, the case of Mr. Holmes is discussed in detail with a particular focus on the treatment he received when he was at graduate school in the months leading up to the shooting and, primarily, the findings from the sanity evaluation carried out by Dr. Metzner. In this article the I³ model is applied to the case of Mr. Holmes. His attack can be seen as resulting from an increase in dispositional and situational impelling factors, presence of instigation factors and a decrease in inhibiting factors, based on a detailed review of available information. The instigation, impellance and inhibition factors potentially present during the lead up to the shooting (approximately five months) and present at the time of the shooting are explored in this article. Instigation factors included a breakup with his girlfriend and academic failure at graduate school. Impellance factors included chronic (i.e., persistent) and severe mental illness associated with psychotic features (e.g., delusions, hallucinations and disordered thinking); social anxiety disorder (and trichotillomania); chronic suicidal thinking; chronic homicidal thinking and his perceived biological shortcomings. Inhibition factors included experiencing a “loss of fear” or “overcoming fear” of the consequences of killing people (in other words, he was becoming disinhibited); prescription medication which may have decreased his inhibition (specifically, antidepressant medication, sertraline — he was eventually prescribed 150 mg of sertraline) and individuals with ASD may be ‘more readier’ compared to others to act on psychotic impulses. This may have been what was happening in the case of Mr. Holmes. Specifically, why he was potentially more vulnerable to acting on his psychotic ideas and beliefs. Also, disinhibition caused by his severe mental illness associated with psychotic features (later diagnosed by the four psychiatrists before the trial as either schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or schizotypal personality disorder) may also have been an important contributory factor.
  • Article
    The current study aims to shed light on how masculinity threat and challenges from women translate into fantasies of mass and gender-based violence. These attitudes are evident among some self-proclaimed “incels,” who blame social liberalism, feminism, and sexually active men for their rejection from women. We developed a measure of “incel” traits, which was administered in an online self-report survey of 18- to 30-year-old heterosexual men in the United States. As hypothesized, stress in one’s inability to live up to norms of masculinity and endorsement of “incel” traits are associated with violent fantasies about rape and using powerful weapons against enemies.
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    Using clinical judgment alone, mental health professionals cannot predict individual patient violence much more accurately than chance. Clinicians could improve their prediction of violence if they routinely used structured risk assessment instruments, but they don't; the use of such tools for screening is not currently the standard of care in the United States and is not commonly reimbursed by insurance. The author argues, however, that clinicians actually can predict and prevent violence if they consider their patients as a group from the perspective of public-health epidemiology. Optimizing treatment for all patients will help prevent violence by the few who pose a risk of violence, even when such patients are not identified in advance.
  • Article
    The recent media hype over school shootings has led to demands for methods of identifying school shooters before they act. Despite the fact that schools remain one of the safest places for youths to be, schools are beginning to adopt identification systems to determine which students could be future killers. The methods used to accomplish this not only are unproven but are inherently limited in usefulness and often do more harm than good for both the children and the school setting. The authors' goals in the present article are to place school shootings in perspective relative to other risks of violence that children face and to provide a reasonable and scientifically defensible approach to improving the safety of schools.
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    This report focuses on mass shootings and selected implications they have for federal policy in the areas of public health and safety. While such crimes most directly impact particular citizens in very specific communities, addressing these violent episodes involves officials at all levels of government and professionals from numerous disciplines. This report does not discuss gun control and does not systematically address the broader issue of gun violence. Also, it is not intended as an exhaustive review of federal programs addressing the issue of mass shootings.
  • Book
    Security expert Kenneth S. Trump outlines school security issues and provides nuts-and-bolts strategies for preventing violence and preparing for crises. Includes author's companion website.
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    In recent years, there have been numerous quasi-experimental studies of aggregate mortality data. These studies conclude that mass media portrayals of violence cause imitative responses among the public. This paper examines the logic of this research, arguing that it does not meet the special burdens of proof associated with quasi-experimental studies that use aggregate data to make inferences about individual behavior. We present detailed evidence suggesting that imitation effects attributed to mass media events (prize fights and television news stories about suicides) are statistical artifacts of the mortality data, the timing of media events, and the methods employed in past research. The concluding section discusses some implications of our analysis for future studies of imitative violence and for other areas of research.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Purpose – This study examines perpetrators and their fans media participation for the purpose of investigating whether new media produce school shootings anew. Method – We first analyze the narrative structure of eight school shooters’ 75 self-produced videos (1999–2011), then conduct thematic and content analysis of this material. Then, based upon a three-year ethnographic investigation of a subculture on YouTube (2007–2010), from which a sample of 81 users, 142 videos, and screenshots of natural conversation was taken, we analyze the style and ritual practices, fan attachment, and online regulation of the subculture. Findings – The mirroring of the school shooters’ videos and their fans’ media practices highlights a trait of contemporary society: a need for distinction and intrinsic individuality directly linked to a modern era in which autonomy and self-production have become well-praised norms, and media a support for individuation. Social implications – We observe some of the pitfalls of contemporary social injunctions and how the media interplay into this dynamic. This research also emphasizes the role of regulation in an online subculture: opposition encountered tends to contribute to the individualization of positions rather than the reproduction of violence. Value of paper – This study provides a starting-point for future research in visual communication and online fan-based subcultures related to contemporary forms of violence.
  • Article
    Even though previous research has not examined mass murder prior to 1965, scholars have asserted that the mid-1960s marked the onset of an unprecedented and ever-growing mass murder wave. Using news accounts and the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) as sources of data, this study analyzes 909 mass killings that took place between 1900 and 1999. Although the mid-1960s marked the beginning of a mass murder wave, it was not unprecedented, because mass killings were nearly as common during the 1920s and 1930s. The results also show that familicides, the modal mass murder over the last several decades, were even more prevalent before the 1970s. Moreover, mass killers were older, more suicidal, and less likely to use guns in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Although some have claimed that workplace massacres represent a new “strain” in mass murder, the findings suggest that the only new type of mass killing that emerged during the 20th century was the drug-related massacre.