Are mass shootings really on the rise?

Reason Podcast


This is the reason podcast and i'm your host nicoletti. The horrific mass killings in paso in dayton have understandably inspired terror in america and calls for expanded gun control predictive policing and mental health interventions designed to reduce violence but northeastern university criminologist james alan fox the leading researcher on the topic for the past thirty five years tells reason there is no evidence that we're in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings the number of incidents. It's and casualties are simply too small to make such claims and he stresses the media coverage of shootings ends up creating a false sense that gun violence which she is at or near historic lows is ubiquitous in growing in a wide ranging interview fox explains the common characteristics of mass killers. Why violent crime involving guns has declined over the past several decades and how cable t._v. and social media contribute to a false sense of panic james alan fox. Thanks for talking to reason blecher. Let's start by defining terms. I what is the difference between a mass shooting in a mass public shooting well. Most mass shootings actually occur occur in private in private homes for example <hes> family annihilation then there's all mesh shootings that are related to a robbery or or drunk trump deal on bad or gang turf wars public mass shooting joey defined as a mass shooting where where there's essentially no real connection between the perpetrator and the victims typically <hes> carried out in a public replace as opposed to private home and it can be people they know such as co workers at a plant plant or keep be total strangers and when we're talking about mass shootings what is the number you prefer to use for the number of casualties or the number number killed. I prefer using four more people killed not including the perpetrator and that traditionally was the definition going back decades <hes> even when they i started doing research on this topic in the early nineteen eighties and it wasn't until two thousand thirteen after the sandy hook massacre that the idea came about that you know technically some shot doesn't mean that they're killed and technically mass shooting doesn't have to involve any i guess at all and so the term definition used by violence archive for example is four people shot but what's important to point out all those those although they matter and not inconsequential not the same thing as a mass killing in fact in half of the cases of mass shootings for more people shot and half of those cases no one's killed in three quarters of those cases either zero or one person's killed now the problem comes when these numbers for example we recently heard that there are more shootings mashes this year the days but these kind of statistics are reported in the aftermath of a mass killing and most americans don't <music> get the difference they fused. They think that every day we're having episode like el paso or dayton and we're not so i think it's important to distinguish the two in in my book my research. I've always held to four more people killed. I think it's clear cut death is is gonna cut whereas an injury can be reminder me shot and have very little in terms of injuries so four more people killed not including the perpetrator upgrade some databases include the perpetrators death <hes> dick and count the death count and then that that's partly a problem because if they're going back and using i mean they're they're using different standards at different times so that you really can't compare or create a pure the trend line right and then also i should point out that in two thousand and thirteen the congress passed a bill will lead to school violence which they arbitrarily defined <hes> a mass shooting is free and more people killed <hes> mother jones which is one organization station has been collecting data on mass killings mass shootings <hes> switch from four to three and were killed but didn't change didn't go back and filling the data for the earlier years so if you just take the mother jones data and put it on a graph such as n._b._c. news did last last week you see big jump after two thousand thirteen because the numbers after two thousand thirteen include incidents with three people killed and those before four yeah let me just quickly ask you to kind of psychologists a bit because both your mother jones does that in that has the effect of kind of amping up hysteria or fear of of mass shootings but donald trump also does that when he talks about crime you know why do people want to live in a world that has more crime in it rather unless they want to i think that <hes> sensational numbers large numbers for big headlines lots of readers yeah so we have heard in the in the past couple weeks <hes> the one more the one mash shooting the day that states and we seem calendars that show you how many occur each day <hes> i mean i understand that technically. It's a mass shooting but boy it. Can it misleads. Please the public into thinking there's constant danger out there and also in terms of the wanna day mass shootings most are not public. Most of them are family only related incidents. A lot of gang related is drug related incidents. Not the kind of random shootings with large death tolls that we saw in el paso and they can you quantify. I mean what's broadly speaking. What's the percentage of kind of private or mass shootings. Versus mass has public shootings well. I can tell you mass killing because clear cut data on mass killings that half of mass killings these are essentially family related episodes a guy <hes> kills his wife and all the kids for example or some other relatives so half family related and then we have another large category that felony related corrupts robberies and gang game related and so forth and only about a quarter less than a quarter actually are the public variety so up until a couple of years ago we had generally on on average about five four or five public mass killings a year <hes>. There's been a slight increase in last couple of years where it's actually reach ten in two thousand eighteen but we're still talking about the the rarest aris form of mass killing it. It's the rarest but the scariest and in your work you talk about how at least through two thousand fifteen they're going back to the early early eighties when the nut mercer kind of first place there really isn't a clear trend in the number of incidents but then you you hypothesize catholic size over the past couple of years that has actually been an increase. Is there a way or is it useful to talk about that. In terms of the increase statistically significant or is that there are so few instances even if you're almost doubling the number it's still you don't know if it's signal or noise. We don't really know that this trend will continue <music>. It's only been a couple of years. We've seen this bump up and by the way there have been other times in the past <hes> three or four decades. We've had a spike in the number of mass killings and people start declaring them epidemics and pulse sudden the epidemic dissipates so two thousand seventeen two thousand eighteen so an increase in two thousand nineteen so far as well. I don't know if this trend will continue. I certainly hope not but i will tell you that part of the problem uh is there really is a contagion effect and now i'm not talking about publicity about the shooter you know and i don't scribe griped the name the shooter a show what i what it basically means that there's tremendous amount of panic country obsession with the whole idea of mass shootings shootings the majority of people thinking that they're going to be someone their families can be thick mass shootings and the more we obsess about it and the more we you see on television images of people crying and running from crime scenes it plays right into the mindset of a few people out there who would love the event in their neighborhood so we actually are contributing to it through our fear and obsession. Is it true that well the number of incidents haven't been going. It's not clear if they've been going up or it's a continuing trend but our mass shootings or mass killings. Are they becoming more for more violent or more fatal well. We do know that some of the largest that we've had occurred in the past dozen years over half the largest tempur occurred in the last years we had if you look at cases in which for example with twenty or more people were killed. We had pulse pulse in orlando last vegas. Shooting of course we had el paso and we had virginia tech <hes> sandy hook but but you know there are also cases prior in prior years we had twenty one killed at a mcdonald's in nineteen eighty four. We nineteen ninety one. We had twenty three people people killed at a at a luby's cafeteria but we have seen this increase in the large body count incidents. Now it's base. It's also hard to stash trend based on what five or six people done it in a country of three hundred thirty million. Can you talk about the <hes>. Is there a profile of shooters. The paso and dayton shooters seem on the one hand. They'll pass shoot or left a very ideological goal manifesto where he explained things he referenced other christ church killing in new zealand and berries things the dayton keller did not seem to leave any record behind neither did the vegas shooter which strength but is there are they. What what motivates mass killers and is there a clear understanding you you know that kind of can explain the whole the whole mess of people or are. They really kind of idiosyncratic well. There are some common factors that the president on every case but most cases typically the mass killer has a history of frustration and failure and disappointment in life <hes> struggling at work in relationships school and secondly and importantly they blame other people they externalize blame. Nothing's ever their fault. The wife doesn't understand them guy. The boss doesn't give them the good assignments or the recognition they deserved. They see themselves as victims of injustice if you if you think you're to blame for your own inadequacies you might take out your frustrations and misery and yourself and others <hes> and then third is that these individuals <hes> lack support systems they often time to live alone or loop with the people with whom they share their problems. They don't have others to bounce things off to help them get through the hard times and to give them a reality check when they start thinking thinking that they're the ones who mistreated and no one else's are they exclusively male ninety five percent mill. Yeah what what does that ninety percent setup ninety percent of murderers our meal. You know murder itself. It's a male dominated activity and and mass murder even more so well they the two factors there's is of course the access to means of mass murder destruction which is part of the reason for the dominance men men are much couple around guns off time under trained in having used guns go target practicing and then finally there's some precipitate which is generally something like job loss or i've been kicked out of the house which by the way off and much more impacting men guy who's who loses his job. Does he lose his income and he he tends to lose his friends because men tend to their friendships and work and also his self esteem.

Coming up next