Mass shooting

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Mass shooting means a number of people shot in the course of a single incident by a single criminal or a small group of criminals. The overarching goal for these individuals is to kill as many people as they can. Definitions including those of the (US) Congressional Research Service and FBI require four victims (deaths) excluding any shooter, and for the shootings to take place in locations close together.[1] Some definitions further restrict this to public areas (including schools and churches but not private homes), or exclude domestic violence, or drug or gang violence; limitations do not always accord with the common idea of a mass shooting.[2]

During the last 30 years, the United States had 78 mass shootings, more than 2 per year on average. By contrast there were 41 mass shootings in 24 other wealthy, industrial nations during the same period. Greater gun availability does not prevent mass shootings.[3] Perpetrators are most of the time men while women and children are disproportionately the victims, girls more so than boys.[4]


From over 50 years of mass shootings, researchers found the following 4 things in common with most mass shooters;[5]

  • Early Childhood Trauma
  • Identifiable crisis point
  • Studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their rage
  • Had access to a means of mass murder

In short, reducing the means (i.e., better gun control) is tackling one part of the problem, and isn't foolproof if there are other means of mass murder. For example, the deadliest attack in Europe by a single person was not from a mass shooting, but from a truck ramming.[6] Once a new means is proven to be effective and the media starts reporting it, well, after the Nice ramming, a number of copycat mass murders ensued in spite of "renting a truck and driving it into people" having been a possibility for as long as there were trucks.

To prevent mass murders, we shouldn't ignore the other three categories. For Early Childhood Trauma, it's not entirely avoidable, but could be reduced with more comprehensive and competent social services such as Child Protective Services. A Crisis Point is often a fact of life for everyone, but could certainly be reduced in a society that's more tolerant of otherwise-harmless oddballs or has a more robust social safety net. As for Validation or Study, while care needs to be taken to avoid any Free Speech issues, there's no reason that society needs to have every mass murderer's mugshot and/or manifesto on the front page of all the newspapers.

Media contagion[edit]

To a much greater degree than is generally understood, there's strong evidence of a copycat effect rippling through many cases, both among mass shooters and those aspiring to kill. Perpetrators and plotters look to past attacks for not only inspiration but operational details, in hopes of causing even greater carnage.
—Mark Follman[7]

One of the most infamous criminals of the Ancient World,[note 1] burned down The Temple of Artemis.[note 2] Why? Because then they would be remembered forever, which they sort of are.[8] The courts invented the rule of erasing someone from the history books as a result, which obviously didn't quite work, as we know who they are today.

The majority of mass murderers have the same motivation; to be known and remembered.[9] In other words, mass shooters are motivated by coverage of mass shooters. They want to be That Guy whose face is plastered over television for weeks at a time, even if their name is a curseword, and mass murder is just the means to that end. While some may try to be remembered for killing the most people, others may try to be remembered for their depravity or novelty; Sandy Hook is only the 4th deadliest mass shooting in the US (so far), but is arguably more well known than the other three. You could probably name Abraham Lincoln's assassin in spite of there only being a single person. Media coverage of a mass shooting can also show future perpetrators how to do it, with the first attack being a sort of "proof of concept". Extremist ideology can convince a person extreme violence is justified and many different ideologies can facilitate extreme violence.[10]

The obvious solution of course? For the news media to stop making shooters famous.[11] When a shooting happens, stop focusing on the "villain" and instead focus on the "heroes" and victims, and prevent "being a mass murderer" from being a path to notoriety.

Gun control[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Gun control

Tough state laws on gun procurement did not protect California from mass shootings because nearby states have much easier access to firearms and guns can be transported between states as easily as cars can. From 2009 to 2015 states insisting on background checks suffered 52% fewer mass shootings than states without background checks. Background checks also reduce the numbers of women shot dead during domestic violence and the number of police shot dead. The National Rifle Association pressured the US Federal government not to allocate funds for gun control research.[12] One has to wonder that they have to hide.

Causation myths[edit]

Video games[edit]

Violent video games have been blamed for mass violence. Donald Trump and others have made this claim,[13] though in fairness, so did Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman when they were senators.[14]

Claims that violent video games lead to real-life violence have not been substantiated. In fact, while about 70% of high schoolers play violent video games, only 20% of mass shooters say they have played those games.[15] Playing violent video games is not associated with real-life aggression.[16] Researchers have not found a link between the popularity of video games and the amount of gun homicides in a country.[17]

Researchers have found that video games are blamed more often when the shooter is white as opposed to when the shooter is black.[18]

Mental illness[edit]

These issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat.
—Jonathan M. Metzl MD, PhD, and Kenneth T. MacLeish PhD[19]

Mass shootings have been blamed on mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.[20] In fact, of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the US between 2001 and 2010, fewer than 5% of the known perpetrators had been diagnosed with a mental illness,[21][22] which is approximately the same number of people living with a serious mental illness.[23] Media coverage focuses disproportionately on shootings perpetrated by people with mental illnesses as compared to shootings committed by people with no diagnoses.[24]

Trying to deflect blame for its own involvement, the National Rifle Association has called for a registry of people with mental illnesses.[25]

Most people with mental illnesses are ordinary, nonviolent people who want to continue going about their lives. Even people with serious illnesses are highly unlikely to be violent.[26] If there's any association with mental illness and gun violence, it's restricted to the rates of suicide.[27]


Blaming autism lets people wave away the idea that evil is not inborn but grown, that someone they know could have hate growing within, that there is capacity for harm in all of us and we don't have an easy answer for it.
—Luna Rose[28]

Media speculations have pointed to autism as a potential cause for mass shootings,[29] stigmatizing an already isolated and under-supported group of people.

However, the reality is that autistic people are less violent than average. Research has shown that autistic children tend to be less aggressive than non-autistic children, with any outbursts usually being the result of provocation.[30] Autistic adults are less likely to commit crime.[31] Research shows that being on the autism spectrum reduces the risk of violent behavior.[32] Autistic people, however, are more likely to be victims.[33]

Nevertheless, autistics pay the price. For example, 17-year-old autistic Jack Robison was accused of being a terrorist for his scientific curiosity in creating explosives with household chemicals, setting them off in the woods away from other people, and filming the results; it took a year-long battle for all charges to be dropped.[34] Another autistic teen, a quiet and nonviolent boy who has been bullied to the point of PTSD, was targeted by rumors at school that he was the reason for the school's lockdown.[35] Research shows that exposure to claims about autism causing violence leads to negative attitudes towards autistic people.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. Whose name is well known to historians but, given the whole reason for mentioning them, won't be
  2. One of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World


  1. What is a Mass Shooting? What Can Be Done?, University of Pennsylvania Department of Criminology Fact Check, accessed Mar 18, 2021
  2. What counts as a mass shooting? The dangerous effects of varying definitions, The Guardian, 13 Dec 2019
  3. Criminologist: Six Things You Should Know About Mass Shootings
  4. Maybe we should outlaw ownership of guns by men?
  5. Mass Shooter Data, LA Times Op-Ed
  6. Remembering the Nice truck attack
  7. While politicians do nothing, a growing legion of cops, psychologists, and federal agents is scrambling to stem the bloodshed.
  8. The story of They Who Shall Not Be Named Here
  9. "Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect", by Jennifer Johnston, Ph.D. and Andrew Joy, BS, Western New Mexico University
  10. Crime profilers overhaul theories on motives after latest mass shootings
  11. From Vox
  12. A Criminologist Explains the Devastating Truth About Mass Shootings in America
  13. Video games, violence and mass shootings have a long, complicated history - USA Today
  14. Hillary promotes law to ban violent video games
  15. No evidence that violent video games are causing mass shootings, despite politicians’ claims - CNBC
  16. Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents' aggressive behaviour: evidence from a registered report - Royal Society
  17. Fact check: Are violent video games connected to mass shootings? - CNN
  18. Violent video games blamed more often for school shootings by white perpetrators - Science Daily
  19. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms - American Journal of Public Health
  20. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms
  21. Mental illness is the wrong scapegoat, Vanderbuilt
  22. Don't Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings - American Academy of Family Physicians
  23. Facts about mental illness
  24. Trends In News Media Coverage Of Mental Illness In The United States: 1995–2014 - Health Affairs
  25. The NRA wants an 'active' mental illness database. Thirty-eight states have that now. - Washington Post
  26. Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy.
  27. Gun violence and mental health - American Federation of Teachers
  28. "Flying at Night": the Good, the Bad, the Shocking - Autistic Dreams
  29. The Myth of the Autistic Shooter - New York Times
  30. Aggression in children with autism spectrum disorders and a clinic-referred comparison group
  31. Autism Is Not Psychosis - The Atlantic
  32. Toronto attack: Autism does not increase risk of violence - The Conversation
  33. Victimization and Perpetration Experiences of Adults With Autism - Frontiers in Psychiatry
  34. Autism link to violence is a myth - CNN
  35. Autistic teen says peers at Norwalk High unfairly label him a threat - The Hour
  36. The influence of media suggestions about links between criminality and autism spectrum disorder