Taking A Shot At Understanding Mass Shootings


It’s been a bang-up time since July 28th, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In case you’ve been living under a rock (which might be a pretty safe place to be these days), three separate mass shootings occurred here in the U.S. in less than a week’s time. Let’s take a shot at understanding what’s up with all this violence.

As Americans, we like to believe our country is #1. And it is–it has more mass shootings than any other country. Shoot! That’s not a record of which to be proud.

Why is the U.S. at the top of the list for sites of mass shootings? A number of factors have been identified as contributing to this infamous ranking. First, there are more guns owned here, and these weapons are more accessible. In fact, the U.S. has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world–a whopping 120.5 guns for every 100 people. This statistic makes sense. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So where there are guns, there is bound to be gunfire.

Is the solution to clamp down and make sure illegal weapons aren’t available? Not really. A recent report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center found that 75% of shooters had legally purchased or were legally in possession of the firearms they used in a mass shooting in a public place. Since the Secret Service released this finding, I’m assuming the statistic isn’t secret.

Another proposed reason for the high incidence of these violent crimes in the U.S. is the shooters’ desire for fame. The media is all over these situations. While the shooter may be getting negative attention, i.e., people decry his actions, for some negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Dylan Klebold, a 17 year old shooter at Columbine High School in 1999 where 13 were killed, would clearly be Demonstrative Exhibit A for this desire for attention theory. He made a video prior to the shooting which expressed his thoughts about what he was going to do. He stated “directors will be  fighting over this story.” Sure, he may have had his 15 minutes of fame during the actual incident, but his actions live on in the media that reaches untold masses..

Hand in hand with the desire for attention theory is the copycat theory. According to this theory, publicity about one mass shooting sparks a desire in someone to do the same thing. Unfortunately, it is not a bright or legal idea which they copy. Mass shooters and lemmings apparently think along the same lines.

Some mass killings are a reaction to bullying or other mistreatment, real or perceived. Disgruntled employees, present or former, may target bosses and co-workers. Bullied students may target those who have bullied them or those who are accepted while they are not. Seems like shooters’ coping skills are far less refined than their shooting skills.

Regardless of why they do it, who are the people who are committing these mass shootings? Unfortunately, according to a former chief psychologist of the U.S. Secret Service, there is no useful profile of a mass shooter. About the only common factor among all such shooters is that they are men. The N.Y. Times reported that the vast majority of these perpetrators were white males acting alone. Would banning men from owning weapons and only allowing women to do so solve the mass shooting problem?

And what exactly is a “mass” shooting?  How many people does it take to make a “mass?” I’ll take a wild guess and say more than one. The FBI defines a mass killing as the killing of 3 or more people in a public place.

The most highly publicized mass shootings have resulted in the deaths of way more than 3 people. The El Paso and Dayton shootings this past weekend resulted in 22 and 9 people respectively losing their lives. Seventeen were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, and 26 were killed in the 2017 Sutherland Springs Church shooting. Fifty-eight perished in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, and 49 perished in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Twenty-seven died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Is it just me or do you hear strains of “Living In The Wild, Wild West” playing in the background? No matter how many people are killed in these types of incidents, one life lost in this manner is one too many.

The AR-15 is widely known as the weapon of choice for the perpetrators of mass shootings. For example, it was used in this past weekend’s Dayton shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the Las Vegas shooting. The National Rifle Association calls the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” The N.Y. Times describes the AR-15 as one of the “most beloved and most villified rifles in the U.S.” Translation? Shooters love it; victims and their families don’t.

To me, a gun is a gun. The only difference between two guns is their size and how loud they are. Those in the know about guns will tell you that the AR-15 is a lightweight, semi-automatic firearm. The weapon was developed by Armalite in 1959. The designation “AR” does NOT mean “assault rifle” as I would have guessed. It stands for Armalite, and 15 is the model number. Colt now holds rights to the name AR-15.

Both Australia and New Zealand have banned the AR-15 from use. New Zealand quickly enacted a ban on the AR-15 effective April 10th of this year following the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15th in which this type of weapon was used. The shooter was quick on the draw, and the New Zealand politicians were quick on the ban.

The El Paso shooter did not use an AR-15. He wielded an AK style firearm. “AK” does not stand for “All Killed.” AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova or Automatic Kalashnikov. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was the designer. Aha! A Russian consipiracy!  When they aren’t busy interfering in elections, Russians are paving the way for mass shootings to occur in this country. The AK-47 is reportedly the most widely used shoulder weapon the the world today.

I am not a crime or gun expert, but I am a human being. I have decades of experience being one and interacting with others. Based on that experience, I believe that regardless of what laws are passed or what guns are banned, if someone is hell-bent on wreaking havoc, they will find a way to do so. It may not be with an AR-15, but it might be with a car. People have intentionally plowed into crowds resulting in death and destruction.

The cause behind these mass shootings is the person with his finger on the trigger. This person is someone who has himself experienced pain through bullying, mental illness, lack of acceptance, lack of attention, lack of self-esteem, etc. As President Trump noted this week, “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Banning guns may be a quick fix, but the issues behind the hand itching to be on a trigger will remain and likely find a violent outlet through another medium. Let’s get to the root of the gunman’s problems and eradicate the underlying cause for the violence. We could at least give it a shot.


Do you think banning the weapons commonly used in mass shootings will preclude any future violence? What steps do you think could be taken to address the underlying issues leading a gunman to commit violence? Is our society becoming desensitized to violence as a result of frequent mass shootings?






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