Mass Shootings And The Causes Of Gun Violence

2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting location – Photo Credit Carol M. Highsmith / CC BY

The sad truth is that there are bad people out there. Gun violence is an unfortunate reality in our world today. What should unite us in protecting one another has done a great job of dividing us.

However, it’s important that we sift through the noise to understand these terrible events and differentiate mass shootings from other crimes gone wrong. Calling every act of gun violence a mass shooting is misleading.

It’s also important to note that what drives these people to commit these acts of violence isn’t as easy as implementing gun control solutions or providing better mental health resources. There are a lot of other factors to consider.

By better understanding what a mass shooting is and why it might happen, we can begin to work together to recognize the signs before they happen and prevent them altogether.

What Qualifies as a Mass Shooting?

Perhaps we should start out defining a mass shooting, but already we run into problems. We could use the FBI definition of mass shooting, but they don’t have one. They do define the term “mass murder” as four or more people killed in a single shooting event, not including the shooter.

The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot in a single event. This sets a mass murder apart from a mass shooting in that the victims do not have to be killed for the incident to qualify.

The United States’ Congressional Research Service defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot during a single event in an indiscriminate manner. The event must take place in a public location and be unrelated to any other criminal activity.

Every media outlet, politician with an agenda, and civilian activist will have a different definition. There are plenty of ways you could define the term, and it’s pretty easy to find a definition that fits your opinion.

Mass Shootings History

Depending on which definition you use, you’ll find a wide range of statistics on mass shootings. In the history of mass shootings, some are large and some are small.

Perhaps the most pivotal mass shooting in the history of the United States occurred in 1966 on the University of Texas campus. The shooter was an ex-Marine, military-trained sniper who perched himself on the observation deck of the main building and began strategically shooting at the people below.

The Tower, University of Texas at Austin

As police officers responded, they had to take cover often, resulting in difficulty taking out the shooter. The shooting lasted for an hour and a half. The police even enlisted students with hunting rifles to assist police in picking off the shooter.

In the end, police were able to storm the Tower and take the gunman down, but it took too long and resulted in too many casualties.

However, the event left 15 dead and 31 wounded. It was one of the first highly publicized and worst mass shootings in the world, spawning the creation of SWAT teams to better handle active shooter situations.

While this wasn’t the first mass shooting in the United States, it was the most violent one to date, and it began to raise awareness. Since then, 167 mass shootings have been recorded, if you use the definition set forth by the Congressional Research Service.

From a statistical perspective, mass shootings are very rare. They account for less than 1% of all firearm homicides. However, because they are increasingly occurring in public venues, the emotional strain we suffer as a society feels much greater.

Deadliest Mass Shootings in the World

There have been more than enough tragic mass shootings in modern history. Without a doubt, the biggest mass shooting in the world occurred on April 3, 2015 at Garissa University College in Kenya.

Garissa University College in Kenya
Garissa University College in Kenya – Photo Credit: Getty Images

Four men entered the campus at the gate, killing two security guards. They went from building to building, singling out Christians and shooting them on the spot. They forced students out of their dorm rooms and made them lay on the ground before shooting them.

It took 16 hours for security to find the men, surround them, and kill them. After the attack was over, 148 people had been killed, 142 of which were students. Almost 500 students were at the university at the time.

The attack was staged by the Islamist group, Al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. This was not the first in a long history of attacks on Kenyans by the group.

When it comes to shootings in America, the biggest in recent history was the attack on the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. On October 1, 2017, a man opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and fired into the crowd below.

It only took him 15 minutes to kill 59 people and injure 850 more. Concert attendees had no idea where the shooting was coming from and scrambled to take cover. When the SWAT team broke into the hotel room, they found the gunman dead by suicide.

Mass Shooting Tracker

mass shooting tracker project violence
The Violence Project mass shooting tracker

Tracking mass shootings can be tricky. There are a lot of factors that play into whether it’s considered a mass shooting, including which definition you use.

The Violence Project is a non-profit organization that has created an interesting database of mass shootings (as defined by the Congressional Research Service) that allows anyone to view all 167 shootings in our recent history, filter by a number of different factors, and analyze the data.

It’s a huge resource for education on gun violence from a nonpartisan perspective, focusing on a wider range of contributing factors that doesn’t only consider gun control and mental illness.

A wider definition of mass shooting will lead to a calculation of many more mass shootings in just the past few years. In fact, when broadening the definition to also include incidents in which more than three people were injured (not necessarily killed), there is a lot more activity in just a single year.

Causes of Gun Violence

While it’s always a difficult task to determine why people do bad things, The Violence Project has done a rather comprehensive job of compiling data and analyzing it to find similarities between these incidents.

In fact, there are four traits that every mass shooter has in common. They include:

  • Trauma and an exposure to violence at a young age
  • A crisis point at which they feel angry, despondent and suicidal
  • An active study of other shooters techniques, ideas, methods, and motives
  • Access to large groups of people, places, and firearms

Given this information, we can certainly assume that better healthcare support and more restrictive gun control laws might solve the problem. But that’s only if we assume that they won’t seek out illegal ways of acquiring firearms, which they will.

In addition, there are other factors at play. Traumatic events in the life of a young child have a profound impact on their personality and mental health. We can’t prevent all traumatic incidents leading to these unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Maybe we can make the assumption that if someone is suffering from the effects of a traumatic incident, they need better access to psychological resources that can help them work through it. However, we can’t guarantee that everyone who needs help will ask for it.

We also can’t restrict all public access to the history of mass shootings, in which people who intend to commit mass shootings will find all of the information they need on how the shootings were carried out.

Curbing the Violence

Second Amendment Rally Against Gun Control
Photo Credit – Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA / CC BY

Without argument, even those in favor of gun rights would love to see these mass shootings stop. Taking a human life deliberately is the worst act of terror. There are plenty of solutions offered up by almost everyone with an agenda.

Gun control is the go-to solution for activists who want to tear guns away from law-abiding citizens. With stricter gun control laws, we could prevent these types of people from getting a hold of these weapons of mass destruction.

On the other side of the same coin are those who are strong supporters of the second amendment. Armed citizens can protect themselves, and criminals have been reported to say that if they know their victim is armed, they won’t attack.

While both arguments are good in theory, they don’t work unless we can all work together toward a solution. It’s likely a combination of tactics that we need to employ to protect citizens from needless violence and monitor and support those who are most likely to carry them out.

Final Thoughts

Mass shootings are horrible acts of violence, and we should do everything we can to prevent them. That starts with understanding what they are, how they happen, and why they occur. While everyone’s definition of mass shooting or mass murder may be different, there’s no doubt that they happen at what feels like an alarming rate.

With increased awareness of these events, many people are beginning to research and learn more in an effort to help spread the word, look out for one another, and prevent these things from happening again in the future.

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