I am not providing commentary on recent events or gun control. These are just facts I have found in the past couple days that I thought were interesting, and were just a little more nuanced than all the memes sliding through my Facebook feed.
1. A mass shooting is defined by the FBI as a public attack (not in private homes or in drug or gang-related shootings.) Until 2012, an official mass shooting required four or more people to be shot. In 2013, a federal law reduced that figure to three. That’s one reasons stats for mass shootings have gone up in the past seven years.
2. Depending what chart you look at, you will see large differences in “mass shootings” over the years. That’s because some include in-home violence and drug and gang related shootings. Obviously, those chart will show more mass shootings. Don’t assume people are trying to be dishonest when you read different stats. It’s just different metrics. Know the one you are reading.
3. Massshootingtracker.org offers an easy-to-understand compilation of death and injuries in mass shootings by year (they include all incidents, not just the FBI’s 'public attack').
4. There is no clear correlation in the US with mass shootings and a particular religion. The vast majority of shooters appear to be irreligious, or at least their religious affiliation is not reported.
5. It's true - the United States has a proportionately lower rate of mass shootings than a number of countries that might surprise you – Norway, Switzerland, France, Finland, and Belgium, for example (there are a few more). That’s interesting, but it needs a context. Norway, for example, had one mass shooting in six years, but because it’s population is only five million, that one shooting pushed the proportion past us. Other than France, that kind of statistic holds true for the list I just gave. So we are not as sweepingly bad as some say, but... that may largely be to the magic of statistics.
6. The strong majority of mass shooters in schools (around 80%) come from homes of “parental absence, separation, divorce, infidelity, parental alcoholism or drug addiction, criminal behavior, domestic violence, and child abuse.” That’s probably the clearest sociological common denominator other than “male.”
7. Very few shooters were diagnosed as mentally ill, but many had mental health issues. I'm not sure that necessarily sets them apart from the average population.
8. If you factor in ALL mass shootings (3 or more in any scenario), there is racial proportionality of perpetrators. No one demographic stands out as more likely to be violent. If you stick to the FBI’s stats, white dudes stand out as mass shooters. That's why you will here different arguments about the race of shooters - it all depends on the metric you use.
9. Watch for how many shooters have a history of domestic abuse. “Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first," wrote Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet in a New York Times op-ed in February. "Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions."
10. “Red flag” laws like President Trump has suggested are an attempt to let concerned parties petition law enforcement to take away guns from people about whom they have credible concerns. Even the NRA is open to some form of this.
12. There is no good reason to believe that immersion in violent media and games turns non-shooters into shooters. Based on feedback I have received from students who play VR first-person shooter games, I am guessing this debate is far from over.
13. I did not find anyone that suggested there is a cookie-cutter model to predict a shooter. I did not find anyone who said there is one sociological tweak that will solve the problem.
14. If I had to summarize an impression after all my reading, it would be this: As far as I can tell, no one who was clean and sober, had a strong sense of their self-worth, and was embedded in a family and/or community in which they felt loved and valuable shows up on a list of shooters.