Mass Shootings: The Irrational Rationalization of Violence

It is October 1, 2015 and we have yet another mass shooting in the United States. As President Obama stated, the frequency of mass shootings have become routine and we have almost become “numb” to this horrible violence. Of course, the political pundits and lobbyists are out almost before the blood dries to point out the polarizing argument about gun control and stricter gun laws. However, I find even more interesting that we will not, in any way, note that the people who commit these crimes are very specific and predictable. We can stop them but it would mean challenging serious cherished views and values of Americans.

In 2012, I wrote a short piece about the James Holmes mass shooting in Colorado, suggesting that there are clear patterns to predict and control these senseless acts.  However, let me reiterate my points below with some updated comments:

1. The potential shooter will be White.Dr. Lippard, are you being a dick? Nope. Check your statistics on who is more likely to commit violent acts and murder (and not who is more likely to be arrested and convicted). Check your statistics on who is more likely to purchase large numbers of guns or have military training. Also, make sure to take a count of the number of convicted crazies who have climbed clock towers or walked into schools to mow down unsuspecting bystanders. Also, you might want to note who has been most likely to be a serial killer. I know what you’re going to say, what about Cho Seung-Hui from the Virginia Tech Shooting or the DC sniper?? Well, one or two racial or ethnic minorities does not negate the rule AND if you read any information on race theory, you would learn that Asian and mixed-race groups are often treated similarly to Whites (aka model minorities).

UPDATE: Since 2012, we have had over 300 mass shootings (more than four victims). The most notable mass shootings since then have included Sandyhook (Adam Lanze), Charleston, SC (Dylann Storm Roof), and the most recent in Oregon took from 9 to 20 lives. Over 80% of these mass shootings happened in white communities and schools and were committed by white folks. Of course, I should mention that when we discuss mass shootings there is a racialized slant. Black on black murder is not often placed in this category of mass shootings even though they do happen and have more fatalities due to guns being involved. However, it should be noted as well that we certainly label those crimes as “black violence” but we don’t label these as “white violence.”

2. The potential shooter will be Male. Can’t dispute this at all. Every person who has gone postal or sprayed bullets through a school hallway has been male. No women at all.

UPDATE: Same is true. No women involved at all.

3. The potential shooter will be middle class. What’s social class got to do with shooting folks? Well, to be honest, a lot more than we want to mention. First off and the most obvious, is that in order to shoot folks, you have to have the money to buy the weapons and ammunition. A typical semi-automatic rifle costs around $400 to $1000 and the bullets, well, they range in price but aren’t free. Second, these individuals have more leisure time. WTF? I know, that doesn’t seem to matter but how do you plan for years to massacre innocent folks if you are working three jobs to earn enough to pay your rent? These folks are often making enough money to support their habit OR they have folks that don’t mind their children spending their money and having it sent to their suburban homes by UPS (see Columbine Shooting). Finally, and unfortunately, being middle class means you are mostly off the radar of police investigations. If you go and read Reiman’s The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, then you would know that it is less likely for middle class folks to even face police on a regular basis or have to deal with the possibilities of being a suspect.

UPDATE: Same is true again. Do you ever wonder what it is the middle class that snaps and uses gun violence to resolve their problems? Why is it that folks in college (very middle class) or at school go after others who have no real connection to their problems or issues? Maybe there is a negative pathology with being middle class in America. We sure don’t see the extremely wealthy or poor solving their problems with mass shootings; AT ALL!

4. The Other factors to consider are?? The top three are pretty much all you need to find the next potential shooter; however, I will provide some other social characteristics for you to consider:

  • Are they between the ages of 18 and 35?
  • Do they own a gun?
  • Are they conservative?
  • Are they a part of a religious Christian conservative movement?
  • Have they been a member of the U.S. military (particularly the Marines or Army)?
  • Do they have a family history of abuse and violence?

UPDATE: I would probably suggest that the fourth item on this list should be changed to “religious conservative or fundamentalist.” However, this point is still clear in that those that have strong religious beliefs are more likely to pull the trigger. Could this be that they don’t fear human ridicule and now their maker is accepting of their trespasses? I’m not sure but it does seem to hold true.

5. The Not-so-important factors. Sorry NBC, CNN, and the rest of America, I don’t think that the PRIMARY reason someone becomes a mass killer is because they are crazy, introverted, highly intelligent, or fanatical. And, if you actually paid attention to the patterns, it looks like the profile of who is going to be the next shooter makes up about 70% of the population. Unfortunately, this is the point. We focus on attempting to pinpoint the psychological reasons and not the social reasons that America creates shooters. Why is it that white, middle class men want to hurt random folks? Why is that our society pushes these individuals (which is really a group of folks) to be the gunmen who mow down your families, friends, and presidents? Could it be that there is something more to this than just a single person acting alone because someone in their heads whispered, “Kill them all?” What if we actually stereotyped white men like we do other groups as a potential threat? Haven’t we done this with black men for decades as the most likely to be thugs out to rob or rape White Women (see the Travon Martin case or Black Lives Matter)? I know I’m not a special victim unit member with specialized training but DAMN, ain’t some of this quite obvious???

UPDATE: Okay, I will admit that there is something going on with mental stability and gun violence. However, we are certainly not looking for what causes this mental instability and why gun violence seems to be the “cure” for those affected by it. However, isn’t it interesting that this mental instability seems to be cropping up more and more among white, middle class men? Is it also odd that they believe that the only way to treat their issues is to kill several people and themselves? Folks, the point is that mass shootings is an epidemic and we need not focus on mental health to resolve the issue. We need to focus on the populations that feel that gun violence is the only way to resolve their socially constructed pain.

One final note before finishing this argument, I want everyone who might read this to realize that while you may be more likely to die in a car accident, the rate of mass shootings increases almost 100% every year in the U.S. From 2006 to 2011, there were 172 mass shootings/killings recorded by the FBI. In 2015, the Washington Post reported there has been 294 mass shootings out of 274 days in the year. Even more important is that there is another trend that no one is discussing; most of these mass shootings are not by random strangers but between family members. Using FBI crime reports, USA Today 53% of mass killings/shootings were between close family or relatives. More important, 57% of the victims in these mass shootings knew the shooter even if they weren’t the main target. Put simply, this trend may include you soon or at least be coming to a town or community near you.

UPDATE (10/4/2017):

So, in light of the most recent and horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, I would like to add some more sociological commentary to how we should approach this continuing social problem of mass shootings in America. Based on my first discussions, I pointed out some sociological ideas on how to “profile” the next shooter. However, I would point out that because of the privileged positions many of these identities have in our society (i.e., white, male and middle class), there will be little that Americans will be able to do to seek out and “lock up” the bad guys, decreasing our abilities to stymie this growing trend by narrowing our focus on these identities. To the contrary, we have to “subvert from within” and address this issue through ideological and institutional changes that unfortunately don’t make the gun lobbyists and special interest groups “nervous” about losing their livelihood. Let’s face the facts and think about what is really the problem here — Gun violence in America. More important, what encourages it to exist and what can we do on a structural level to address it.

First, we have to realize and accept that we live in a society that condones a culture of violence.  a World Health Organization report from 2009 suggests that a culture of violence is about a social groups support of values, beliefs, and norms that encourage violence as a solution to almost any frustration. Moreover, this culture of violence can be measured on a scale of intensity when we compare national rates of violent crimes including rape, murder, armed assault, domestic violence, and mass shootings. For example, the United States rate is 14th in the world for the highest rates of murder per capita, which seems good. However, when you see that the top 13 countries are mostly developing nations with corruption problems, it starts to make you wonder what is going on in the U.S. America also has some of the highest rates of rape and/or sexual assault of women, as well as tops the chart for mass shootings (aka 4 or more people killed/wounded during an altercation). I should also point out that the U.S. is number 11 in  in the rate of just gun-related violence in the world and we are again behind mostly developing countries that have severe economic and political problems. Be honest with yourself, 58 deaths and 200+ injuries is insane for America to allow to happen based on one man’s decision to kill others. Like any other addiction, we must own up to the fact that we have a problem and we must address it or we will continue to see more mass shootings.

Image result for ar-15

Second, we have a gun problem. Yes, I know that we have been given the right to bear arms but this has become a nightmare of misinterpretation. Certainly, we want to keep these guns, rifles, and grenade launchers just in case our government tries to take them away from us but we must be reasonable. A recent report of the shooting in Las Vegas by the Washington Post points out that all of the guns used were modified to be automatic rifles and included high capacity magazines (i.e., AR-15 type rifle, AK-47 type rifle). The shooter also have over 23 guns in his position during the rampage, as well as many others back at home. Of course, not all gun owners collect and store a cache of assault/machine/automatic weapons. In fact, many of them have either daddy’s or grandpa’s old hunting rifle or shot gun. However, the real problem is that gun lobbyists like the NRA persuades us all with the notion that owning any type of gun is our God-given right and it just isn’t. More important, by civilians (and criminals) owning guns that can do what mass shooters have done with them, it only escalates the violence necessary to take them down by the police. Thus, the question becomes while Americans aren’t going to lose their right to bear arms, do we think there should be limits to what you can carry and when you can use it? I believe Americans generally don’t agree that they want to live like it is the Wild West and even then, they had gun laws!! (see the OK Corral or even Dodge City, Kansas for examples).

Finally, we have a government problem. Our government is paralyzed with making any decisions about any issue. This started with Obama and has continued with President Trump. We must push for clear legal restrictions and ramifications to end gun violence in our country. Of course, it will not be easy and if we don’t do it right, there will be issues. However, we do have global neighbors who have been able to do something about gun violence and it has decreased it significantly. In fact, we are the ONLY country on the news for the last 10 years that has significant increases in gun deaths and casualties in comparison to our European, Asian, and African allies. The only other places that have such a significant rate of deaths due to guns  are in war-torn countries/provinces or in places where there is essentially no government. Americans are better than this and we must stand united against this continuing menace on our streets. The only other alternative narrative here is that the violence increases because now we are all going to go out and buy guns, dig in, and wait for the apocalypse.



About lippardcd

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University.
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2 Responses to Mass Shootings: The Irrational Rationalization of Violence

  1. Very good written article. It will be supportive to everyone who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep up the good work – for sure i will check out more posts.

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