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]

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 only one part of the problem and we certainly should look into the other three issues, and stopping guns 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 since the invention of trucks.

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, whether that's the inability to hold a job or maintain meaningful relationships. At best, this could certainly be reduced in a society that's more tolerant of otherwise-harmless oddballs or has a more robust social safety net such that crises are not as severe.

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. In many ways, mass murderers want the attention,[7] they want to know that for once in their life, the world cares about them. That there will be millions of people reading about their situation, about their life, that they can force society to care no matter who has to get hurt in the process.

Strain theory[edit]

In Sociology, strain theory suggests that most antisocial behavior is the result of the gap between expectations and actual achievement.[8] The profile of most mass shooters does appear to fit this in some form, and the headless body of Dr Agnew came up with the general strain theory to describe this as the main cause of crime.[9] Many men have the "expectation" they will have attractive girlfriends, good jobs, lots of respect from society, but when that never materializes and it becomes clear they will never achieve those things, well, some people try to get ahead by stealing or drug dealing. Others want to vent their rage at the world that "betrayed" them by writing angry screeds online. But for a few, this escalates further into mass murder. For example, the Isla Vista shootings involved a young man who was furious that attractive women were not sleeping with him, and decided that he would murder as many young women as he could, and most mass shooters appear to have some similar story of being angry at society in general for some perceived slight. Does this sound suspiciously like terrorism? Yes, yes it does, as noted again by Dr Agnew.[10]

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[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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, especially if their name becomes a curseword, and mass murder is just the means to that end. While some may try to be remembered for killing the largest number of people, others may try to be remembered for their depravity or novelty; Sandy Hook is only the 4th deadliest mass shooting in the US,[note 3] Columbine isn't even in the top 10, but both are arguably more well known than the others. You could probably name Abraham Lincoln's assassin in spite of there only being a single murder. Media coverage of a mass shooting can also show future perpetrators how to do it, with the first mass murder 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.[14]

The obvious solution of course? For the news media to stop making shooters famous.[15] 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.[citation needed] From 2009 to 2015 states insisting on background checks suffered 52% fewer mass shootings than states without background checks.[16] 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. One has to wonder what they have to hide.

Causation myths[edit]

Fatherless homes[edit]

According to the Secret Service, between 1974 and 2000, 63% of mass shooters lived with two parents, 44% with biological and 19% with a step parent, and the other 37% being a mix of single parent, foster, etc.[17] This is a bit less frequent than the average during this time period, where about 75% of kids lived in a two parent household.[18] This is significant, sure, but nowhere near enough to create a "profile" of your typical mass murderer nor in itself explain why the U.S. has so many mass shootings. More importantly, correlation does not equal causation, especially considering that being raised by a single parent is also correlated with poverty, and poverty and inequality has been shown to increase the frequency of mass shootings.[19] This doesn't stop conservatives from insisting that virtually all mass shooters come from broken homes, because nuclear family.[20]

Video games[edit]

Violent video games have been blamed for mass violence. Donald Trump and others have made this claim,[21] though in fairness, so did Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman when they were senators.[22]

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.[23] Playing violent video games is not associated with real-life aggression.[24] Researchers have not found a link between the popularity of video games and the amount of gun homicides in a country.[25]

Researchers have found that video games are blamed more often when the shooter is White as opposed to when the shooter is Black.[26] Note that nobody seems to take this line of thinking to the obvious conclusion; nobody seems to insist that games such as Minecraft have resulted in random homes being built all over the place or Wii Sports resulting in a surge of all-star athletes.

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[27]

Mass shootings have been blamed on mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.[28] 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,[29][30] which is approximately the same as the proportion of the population living with a serious mental illness.[31] Media coverage as well as general discourse focuses disproportionately on shootings perpetrated by people with mental illnesses as compared to shootings committed by people with no diagnoses;[32] even if there are no diagnoses, people then try to speculate about mental health issues.

Trying to deflect blame for its own involvement, the National Rifle Association has called for a registry of people with mental illnesses.[33]

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.[34] If there's any association with mental illness and gun violence, it's restricted to the rates of suicide.[35]


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[36]

Media speculations have pointed to autism as a potential cause for mass shootings,[37] 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.[38] Autistic adults are less likely to commit crime.[39] Research shows that being on the autism spectrum reduces the risk of violent behavior.[40] Autistic people, however, are more likely to be victims.[41]

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.[42] 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.[43] Research shows that exposure to claims about autism causing violence leads to negative attitudes towards autistic people.[44]

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
  3. far


  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. Does Media Coverage Inspire Copy Cat Mass Shootings?, National Center for Health Research
  8. Metron's Strain Theory, Psychology Today
  10. A general strain theory of terrorism, Dr Agnew, 2010
  11. While politicians do nothing, a growing legion of cops, psychologists, and federal agents is scrambling to stem the bloodshed.
  12. The story of They Who Shall Not Be Named Here
  13. "Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect", by Jennifer Johnston, Ph.D. and Andrew Joy, BS, Western New Mexico University
  14. Crime profilers overhaul theories on motives after latest mass shootings
  15. From Vox
  16. A Criminologist Explains the Devastating Truth About Mass Shootings in America
  18. Percentage and Number of Children Living With Two Parents Has Dropped Since 1968, US Census]
  19. Income inequality and mass shootings in the United States
  20. Did 26 of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters Come from Fatherless Homes?, Snopes
  21. Video games, violence and mass shootings have a long, complicated history - USA Today
  22. Hillary promotes law to ban violent video games
  23. No evidence that violent video games are causing mass shootings, despite politicians’ claims - CNBC
  24. Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents' aggressive behaviour: evidence from a registered report - Royal Society
  25. Fact check: Are violent video games connected to mass shootings? - CNN
  26. Violent video games blamed more often for school shootings by white perpetrators - Science Daily
  27. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms - American Journal of Public Health
  28. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms
  29. Mental illness is the wrong scapegoat, Vanderbuilt
  30. Don't Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings - American Academy of Family Physicians
  31. Facts about mental illness
  32. Trends In News Media Coverage Of Mental Illness In The United States: 1995–2014 - Health Affairs
  33. The NRA wants an 'active' mental illness database. Thirty-eight states have that now. - Washington Post
  34. Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy.
  35. Gun violence and mental health - American Federation of Teachers
  36. "Flying at Night": the Good, the Bad, the Shocking - Autistic Dreams
  37. The Myth of the Autistic Shooter - New York Times
  38. Aggression in children with autism spectrum disorders and a clinic-referred comparison group
  39. Autism Is Not Psychosis - The Atlantic
  40. Toronto attack: Autism does not increase risk of violence - The Conversation
  41. Victimization and Perpetration Experiences of Adults With Autism - Frontiers in Psychiatry
  42. Autism link to violence is a myth - CNN
  43. Autistic teen says peers at Norwalk High unfairly label him a threat - The Hour
  44. The influence of media suggestions about links between criminality and autism spectrum disorder