A lone figure equipped with firearms proceeds to kill three or more victims; a small group with firearms kill three or more victims; both are accepted today as definitions of mass shootings. Other incidents such as mob hits, racial hangings and school shootings have their own definitions. The FBI and The Congressional Research Service classify mass shootings as homicides involving multiple weapons, four or more victims, and one or more locations in close proximity to each other. Incidents of violence initiated by foreign terrorists are not included in the above definitions. For those who glance over specifics, it is simply gun violence and it is on the rise.
In the past decade there have been numerous situations in which many innocent men women and children have been killed, too many to list, so I am going to mention just two instances.
- On August 13th in the year 2013, a 28 year old unemployed poultry dealer, located in the Egyptian village of Meet al-Attar was released from prison after being held culpable in the 2008 slaying of 23 people. He then lost no time in searching and obtaining an AKMS assault rifle after which he proceeded to kill on sight 15 villagers, wound several other bystanders, before being shot himself. His name was Omar Abdul Rifai. The reason for mass shooting was his neighbors’ failure to side with him in family feud.
- In Korat, Thailand, between February 8th and 9th, in the year 2020, 29 people were killed and 58 wounded in a mass shooting. The perpetrator was a soldier of the Royal Thai Army. A confrontation occurred between him and his commanding officer over a piece of property. He killed the officer with the officer’s weapon, then turned and killed the officer’s mother-in-law. He proceeded towards another building on base where upon arriving he killed a guard then stole two Type 11 assault rifles and a M60 machine gun with its’ 776 rounds of ammunition. Needing transport, he killed the driver of a Humvee, then made his escape, opening fire upon two police officers and two civilians. He made his way to Terminal 21 shopping mall where a large number of shoppers were enjoying the public holiday known as Magha Puja. Finally he fired at several people on the road towards a well known Buddhist Temple. During the entire ordeal, the perpetrator posted updates on his social media along with a live stream on his Facebook account.
A well known study of mass shootings compiled in 2019 by Lott and Moody stated that 41 of 138 public mass shootings by single perpetrators worldwide were committed in the United States.
Why mass shootings happen and why are there more of them each year are two very frightening and frustrating questions for which there are no satisfying answers however a list of motivations includes:
- Religious extremism
- Political ideologies
- Sexual Orientation
- Mental Illness
- Need of Notoriety
In 2019 a study done by Jillian Peterson and James Densley of The Violence Project and funded by National Institute of Justice discovered four things that mass shooters have in common:
- 1) early childhood trauma along with exposure to violence
- 2) a recognizable grievance or crisis point
- 3) validation required for their belief system along with a study of past shootings for inspiration
- 4) the means to carry out an attack
At any moment during the above four stages in the development of a mass shooter there exists an opportunity for intervention. These experts believe that if access to firearms is limited; if training in crisis intervention is made more available; if the need for validation is lessened and slowed down and if mental healthcare for trauma patients is made more affordable, then a mass shooting can be averted. These experts are supported in their work by criminologists who maintain that the individualistic culture of a country adds to the risk of violence. It is argued that the social alienation and continued competitiveness of societies where capitalism is paramount creates mass shooters by causing people to malfunction.
There is so much more to be said/written. Following the 2015 San Bernardino attack the then president Obama said that the frequency of mass shootings in the United States has ‘no parallel in the world.’ There are 365 days in a year and during the total of those days in 2020 there were 600 mass shootings.
The loud voice of indignation can be heard from coast to coast: “Nothing ever changes!” When nothing changed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012 it was believed that the slaughter of innocent children was a price worth paying for owning a gun. When nothing changed after 64 year old Stephen Paddock fired a fury of bullets from his hotel window into a crowd of 22,000, killing 58 innocent people and wounding 800, it was barely mentioned. Parents were left feeling helpless. The police felt powerless. Debating gun control or mental health care was the inevitable outcome. At present, there are approximately 50 mass shooters living large in American prisons.
One last thought for now: a director of the Center For Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and an expert on gun violence maintains that the AR-15 changed the look of mass shootings. They now have a higher body count and the acting out is far more spectacular as each killer attempts to outdo the other. “People are desensitized,” he said.