With the recent tragic attacks in El Paso, the world once again turned its attention to mass shootings and the supposed danger of rampant
white supremacists. It’s a subject that has captivated America for years with little progress in understanding the nature of the problem.
The topic of mass shootings is dominated by political agendas and a lot of misinformation. Where exactly is the evidence-based analysis?
First, it should be understood that there are different types of mass shootings. A recent analysis by Emma Fridel in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence identified the three most common types of mass shootings: Family killings, felony killings, and public mass killings:
- Familicides represent the most common form of mass murder and are principally defined by a close victim-offender relationship. Perpetrators are typically White, middle-aged males who target their spouse or intimate partner, children, and other relatives (Fridel 2017, 3).
- Felony killings are distinguished by motive. Murder is used to achieve some primary criminal objective, typically involving financial gain. … Due to their general lack of sensationalism, felony killings are not widely publicized despite representing the second largest category of mass murder. Perpetrators of felony mass murders tend to be young black or Hispanic males with extensive criminal records (Fridel 2017, 7).
- Despite their extreme visibility, public mass killings account for the smallest proportion of all mass murders. Formally, these incidents are defined by attack location. Public mass killers are a heterogeneous group and are frequently delineated into several subtypes. Public murderers are often stereotyped as middle-aged white men who have suffered a series of failures in different areas of life, though some research indicates a disproportionate number of immigrants commit public massacres (Fridel 2017, 5). These public mass shootings are what most people (wrongly) consider as typical of mass shootings.
Fridel found that blacks commit twice as many felony mass shootings as whites (50.49 percent versus 22.33 percent).
Fridel notes that the murders serve to eliminate witnesses of a robbery, drug crime, or gang-related attack. While they represent the second largest category of mass murder, we almost never hear about them as they are part of the fabric of inner-city life (Chicago, Baltimore). As Ice Cube said in his lyrics for the now-classic Straight Outta Compton, “When somethin’ happens in South Central, Los Angles…Nothin’ happens. It’s just another nigga dead.”
Things get murky when we cherrypick the data, as in Newsweek’s article
“White men have committed more mass shootings than any other group.”
The Newsweek article is based on a Mother Jones database and analysis that only looked at one of the three types of mass shootings—public mass killings–the rarest type.
Other analysis, white men are no more likely to engage in a mass shooting than any other race. Daniel Engber, writing for Slate, noted that mass shooters are not disproportionately white male. He writes that “the notion that white men of privilege are disproportionately represented among mass shooters—indeed, that they make up ‘nearly all’ of them—is a myth.”
The mental health aspect is a whole other can of beans. As part of the analysis from Mother Jones, they found that nearly 80 percent of the perpetrators in 62 cases obtained their weapons legally. Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 36 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving (a.k.a. “suicide by cop”). And according to additional research, at least 38 of them displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.
Are white supremacists roaming the landscape, planning the next mass shooting? No. The bottom line is there is no profile for the typical mass killer.
Public mass killings by white males tend to get a lot of press, but white guys are not alone–Muslim man Omar Mateen killed forty-nine people at a Florida nightclub in 2016, and Asian student Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007.
Mass killing is an equal opportunity employer.
The narrative of the white supremacist killer is embedded in the new American consciousness, but it is a myth, and as Sam Sheppard said, “All Myth is Lie”. The liberal 2019 definition of white male privilege is that your son is predisposed to racism, white supremacy, and murder at birth, and he needs to come to understand this about himself.
This totally false meme, which is typical, is what our sons get to see on social media:
So it goes.