An Overview of Mainstream “Mass Shootings” Discussions
Horrendous “perpetrator” events coax label grasping, something to tuck away the evil, segregating it from the norm. One with foreign-looking features triggers a terrorist assumption. Rosy-cheeked white males —whether shooting up school classmates or bringing down a third of a federal building— more likely induce a non-professional “mental illness” declaration.
Within the realm of mass shootings, terrorism and mental illness emerge as typical knee-jerk assumptions. Stoked by TV talking heads untrained in the nuances of either concept, monkey-hear monkey-speak parroting ensues. The robotic language of the discussions, on its face, mirrors adherence to a script: Now is not the time to play politics by discussing gun control…. Guns don’t kill … obviously mentally ill people kill …
An Abbreviated Tour of Mass Shootings’ Gut-Wrenching Heartache
A handful of examples underscore America’s unique record in the “mass shootings” arena:
✦︎ November 5, 2017— Sutherland Springs, TX: Baptist Church, during service 1
- 26 killed (aged 18-months to 72), 20 injured
- Perpetrator: Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, white; suicide at scene
- Motive: ill-will toward mother-in-law, who frequented the targeted church
- Weapon: semi-automatic rifle
- Notes: 2014 dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, domestic violence
✦︎ October 1, 2017— Las Vegas, NV: concert, attended by 22,000 2
- 59 dead, 527 injured
- Perpetrator: Stephen Paddock, 64, white; killed at scene
- Motive: (undetermined)
- Weapon: AR-15-style rifles
✦︎ December 2, 2015— San Bernardino, Calif.: conference hall 3
- 14 dead, 17 wounded
- Perpetrator: Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik; killed at scene
- Motive: Islamic terrorism
- Weapon: Two semi-automatic rifles, two 9mm semi-automatic pistols, pipe bombs
✦︎ June 17, 2015— Charleston, S.C.: historic Black church, during Bible study 4
- 9 dead (ages 26 to 87)
- Perpetrator: Dylan Storm Roof, 21, White; federal death sentence
- Motive: proud white supremacist
- Weapon: semiautomatic handgun
✦︎ Dec. 14, 2012. Newtown, Conn.: Sandy Hook Elementary School 5
- 20 students & 6 school employees dead
- Perpetrator: Adam Lanza, 20, White; suicide at scene
- Motive: (undetermined)
- Weapon: Bushmaster XM15-E2S (.223), Glock 20SF (10mm)
- Notes: Killed mother earlier that day.
✦︎ April 16, 2007. Blacksburg, Va.: Virginia Tech 6
- 32 dead, 17 injured
- Perpetrator: Seung-Hui Cho, 23, Asian, a senior; suicide at scene
- Motive: (undetermined)
- Weapon: .22-caliber Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun, 9 mm semi-automatic Glock 19 handgun
✦︎ April 20, 1999. Columbine, Colorado: Columbine High School 7
- 13 dead, 20+ wounded
- Perpetrator: Dylan Klebold, 17; Eric Harris, 18; both White; suicide at scene
- Motive: revenge for bullying
- Weapon: Intratec TEC-DC9 assault pistol, Hi-Point 9mm Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, and a Savage 311-D 12-gauge shotgun
A productive discussion, sourced in intellectual honesty, mandates a common understanding of base terms.
✦︎ “Mass Shooting” Defined 8
The law provides no definition. Nor does an official set of criteria offer the contours of a “mass shooting.” Rather, the squishy definition, as corralled by the FBI, suggests: killing at least 4 people, usually confined to a single location. As a result, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo —the notorious rifle-toting snipers targeting DC and Virginia innocents during three weeks in October 2002— are deemed “serial killers” as opposed to “mass shooters.”
✦︎ “Mental Illness” Defined 9
The Psychiatric Association relies on a textbook to discern and diagnose mental illness: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently, the DSM-5). Diagnosis is partially dependent on interviews with the subject.
The precise legal definition differs from state to state. As a general rule, all focus on the same baseline: was the individual able to distinguish right from wrong, and comport him-/herself accordingly, during the relevant timeframe.
✦︎ “Terrorism” Defined 10
The U.S. code restricts the terrorism label to “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The FBI’s functional definition: violence inspired by “extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” Given the 2016 Florida massacre of gay nightclub patrons, these definitions will likely see revisions.
Discarding the Usual Culprits Used to Explain Mass Shootings
The usual scapegoats trotted out to explain America’s growing mass shootings dilemma include:
- the unusually violent nature of the country
- strife sourced in racial divisions
- mental illness unaddressed by the nation’s health system.
But an increasing number of research studies debunk those theories, all agreeing on an single cause: the nation’s love affair with guns. The New York Times, in a November 7, 2017 article, confirms 270 million guns in the hands of Americans, exclusive of law enforcement and the military. No other country’s gun possession exceeds 46 million. The world’s population approximates 7.6 billion people; the U.S. population, 323.1 million. Yet a 2012 Congressional Research Service study found Americans owning almost half of the 650 million guns owned by civilians worldwide.
The Question Posed, Worldwide: Why Doesn’t America ACT to Curtail Mass Shootings?
Every American comprehends: politics rule this nation. Politicians, elected to office, must indulge the campaign trail. Campaigns trigger an insatiable need for money. Lobbyists provide the requisite funds.
Referencing the NRA (National Rifle Association), a/k/a the gun lobby, the Business Insider notes:
The bulk of the group’s money now comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources.
In short, the gun lobby retains its premier enabler status, inducing homage by politicians through funds provided by those who manufacture gun$. 11 1 plus 1 equals 2. Money talk$. Within the current context, its oozes —like blood— in mantra-like fashion: Now is not the time to play politics … with a gun control discussion… Our prayers go out to the victims and their loved ones…
✦︎ Breakiing News during opening days of August 2018
The NRA Says It’s in Deep Financial Trouble, May Be ‘Unable to Exist’ – Rolling Stone
The National Rifle Association warns that it is in grave financial jeopardy, according to a recent court filing obtained by Rolling Stone, and that it could soon “be unable to exist… or pursue its advocacy mission.” (Read the NRA’s legal complaint at the bottom of this story.)
NRA Says It Faces A Financial Crisis In Lawsuit Against New York State Officials : NPR
The National Rifle Association says it could soon face a financial crisis that will force it to shut down some of its operations, including broadcasts by its NRA TV division.
Mass Shootings since Sandy Hook, in One Map: vox.com
Footnotes / Sources
(All last accessed
November 8, 2017 August 7, 2018)
- NYT: Mass Shootings in the U.S. October 2, 2017. // NBCNews: Texas Church Shooter May Have Been Targeting His Mother-In-Law. November 6, 2017. ↩
- NYT : Gunman’s Vantage Point and Preparations Opened the Way for Mass Slaughter. October 2, 2017. ↩
- NBCNews: “San Bernardino Shooters Used Four Guns, Explosive Device”: ATF. December 3, 2015. ↩
- MSNBC: Charleston church massacre: Dylann Roof’s gun bought at local store. June 23, 2015. // CNN : What’s next for Dylann Roof after federal death sentence? January 12, 2017. ↩
- NYT: Mass Shootings in the U.S. October 2, 2017. // CNN: Sandy Hook killer took motive to his grave. November 26, 2013. // (PDF 277p) Citizens for Legitimate Government: Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee. March 6, 2015. ↩
- CNN: Virginia Tech Shootings Fast Facts. April 3, 2017. // Roanoke Times: Police: No motive found. Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. ↩
- History.com: Columbine High School shootings. 2009. // Violence Policy Center: Where’d They Get Their Guns? May 3, 2012. ↩
- Mother Jones: What Exactly Is a Mass Shooting?. August 24, 2012. // Psychology Today: How Mass Murder and Serial Murder Differ. February 23, 2015. ↩
- US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, What is a Mental/Psychiatric Disorder? From DSM-IV to DSM-V. November 1, 2011. // Black’s Law Dictionary 6th ed. 1990 at 986 (Mental incapacity) and 794-795 (Insanity); professional prosecutorial experience. ↩
- FBI: What We Investigate: Terrorism. // GPO: Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse. // New Republic: Oklahoma City Exposes the Origins of Today’s White Nationalism. February 7, 2017 ↩
- Violence Policy Center: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA. September 10, 2013. ↩