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10 things you should know about mass shootings

January 07, 2016

It seemed in 2015 that almost every week there was another mass shooting that took place somewhere in the United States.

Of course that wasn’t the case, but between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015 there were 372 mass shootings that left 475 people dead and 1,870 wounded.

In 2016 there have already been two that have claimed the lives of three people and injured five more.

Mass shootings in this country aren’t new.

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 that left 13 dead, there have been 26 more in 2013 and 36 in 2014.

The sheer number of these violent attacks seemed to have stunned people and started a lot of finger pointing.

There have also been a lot of news articles written on how to protect yourself during a mass shooting and even more articles offering possible explanations on why these acts of extreme violence occur, but nothing really tangible has been suggested on how they can be stopped.

There are some things you should know about mass shootings and here are 10 of them.


Mass shootings: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2015-the-year-of-mass-shootings/

2016 shootings: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting

Columbine High School: http://www.history.com/topics/columbine-high-school-shootings

1. Mass shootings defined.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t have an actual definition of the term mass shooting.

They do have a definition of someone who is referred to as an active shooter: “An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area…”

What makes a mass shooting different from just one or two people being killed is that apparently to qualify as a mass shooting at least four people need to be killed or injured in one incident.

Although most people may associate the term mass shooting as someone going into an area and killing several people, it can also be described as a murder/suicide or a domestic situation among family members.


Federal Bureau of Investigation: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter...

2. The statistics of a mass shooting.

The FBI also has a few hard facts about these shootings and they are:

• Over 70% of shootings occurred in a place of business and 40% in an educational setting.

• Roughly 15% of these shootings take place at more than one location.

• 60% of shootings are over before law enforcement arrives.

• 69% of shootings are over within five minutes and 23% are over in two minutes.

• A majority of these shootings involve a single shooter.

• Although some shooters will kill their own family first, this number is relatively small.

• Although there are some who may suggest fighting with a shooter as a last resort, only 13% of these are successful.


FBI facts: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter...

3. Legal versus illegal.

After every reported shooting people begin the age old debate of illegally obtained weapons versus legally obtained weapons and how they contribute to the increasingly violent nature of this country.

There are those who believe that stricter gun laws will help prevent mass shootings.

The reality is that in every situation that occurred in 2015 involving an active shooter the weapons were either bought legally by the shooter or someone else bought them legally and either gave them the weapons or made sure they had access to them.

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot his mother to death and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School killing 20 first grade students and 10 staff members.

In the home he shared with his mother, authorities found seven guns and rifles plus over 1,600 different types of ammunition in addition to various knives, swords and bayonets.

All of these weapons had been legally purchased and owned by Lanza’s mother. They also found a check she had given her son so that he may purchase his own weapon.

Guns that are used in drive-by shootings, gang violence or drug cartels are usually illegal.

However, this type of violence wasn’t the majority of mass shootings in 2015.

Politicians are hesitant to enforce gun control laws even though Americans are interested in certain changes in policies such as a ban on assault weapons, background checks on purchasers of weapons; a federal gun-tracking data base; back ground checks for private and gun show sales; preventing persons who have been diagnosed with a mental illness from purchasing a weapon, and having more armed security guards in schools.

Will changing/reinforcing gun laws make a difference?

Probably not for the following reasons:

1. Criminals don’t follow laws.

2. Anyone who has their mind set on doing wrong won’t care about what laws they’re breaking.

3. In this country if someone wants something bad enough, they’ll find a way to get it. This includes a gun.


Sandy Hook Elementary School: http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/28/17501282-investigator...

Lanza arsenal: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/28/17501802-guns-knives-ammo-and...

Gun policies: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/07/24/11-essential-fact...

4. All active shooters are mentally ill.

You would think that anyone who sets out to kill a bunch of people has to be seriously mentally ill, but that’s not always the case.

Since 1970, 60% of active shooters were believed to be mentally ill, but very few of them had an official diagnosis.

Law enforcement will say that there is evidence of mental illness, but they’re just saying that due to the shooter’s actions and/or behavior prior to the shooting they seemed crazy.

A majority of shooters never quite make it past the actual act because they either commit suicide or are shot by cops which make the whole mental illness claim a moot point.

There is also a big difference between having a mental disorder and having a mental condition.

Sylvia Seegrist, who on October 30, 1985, walked into a suburban Philadelphia mall and opened fire with a rifle killing three people. Seegrist had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia-which is considered a mental disorder- ten years before the shooting.

She was found to be guilty but insane. Seegrist would ultimately receive three life sentences plus seven-10 year terms.

The woman is currently serving her time at the State Correctional Institute at Muncy and is housed in the MHU – Mental Health Unit.

Mental conditions have been referred to as non-psychotic and most of them are personality disorders such as antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, schizotypal, avoidant, paranoid, and obsessive-compulsive.

So, whereas active shooters may suffer from a mental disorder, whether they actually had the type that rendered them insane remains unknown unless they were diagnosed prior to their rampage which many of them aren’t.

There are many people serving time for either single or multiple murders in prisons across the United States.

Several of them tried to use the insanity defense, but through the psychiatric process were found to be sane because they did not have a mental disorder. They had a mental condition.


Mental illness: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286/

Sylvia Seegrist: http://murderpedia.org/female.S/s/seegrist-sylvia.htm

5. Location, location, location.

Since 1984, a majority of the mass shootings that took place in the United States didn’t happen in the larger urban areas where crime is usually high.

Many of the locations of these shootings took place is suburban or rural towns and were unfamiliar to most people.

So why do most of these shootings happen in more suburban or rural areas?

If you live in a large city it’s easy to be anonymous, but if you live in a much smaller area it’s easier to be isolated.

In larger cities, because the amount of people that reside there, living situations tend to be a little more crowded.

Most inner city dwellers live in either apartment buildings or in row houses which results in living in really close proximity to one another.

Smaller areas usually have single family homes or more acreage of property.

Urban dwellers tend to be more aware of people in their environment because of some of the attributes of city living.

Non-urban dwellers tend to be suspicious of newcomers or outsiders; people who haven’t lived there for 20 years. They also tend to be more trusting of those whose families they have known for years.

Larger cities also have more resources like a larger police force, access to more health care and various activities throughout the area.

In cities like Philadelphia, there are cameras everywhere you look. These cameras cost a lot of money which big cities tend to have especially when it comes to keeping their residents safe.

Philadelphia’s new mayor, Jim Kenney, also wants to install ShotSpotter which is a sound detection system that will let the police know when there has been a shooting which would quicken their response time.

This new crime fighting equipment is costly ($700,000 and up) which most small town budgets can’t afford.

Smaller cities/towns also tend to have less to do and more time to do it.

Their police force is usually a lot smaller and too often medical/mental health facilities are either in the next town over or substandard due to lack of funding.

Although larger cities have more of a diverse attitude based on their population, smaller area’s inhabitants may have lesser education, live in a more Christian-based environment and where possessing weapons is a natural occurrence.

Big cities have some of the most gruesome crimes imaginable, but smaller, less populated areas due to the isolation factor makes it easier for an active shooter to prepare –both mentally and physically-for the carnage that they will create.

Although law enforcement doesn’t consider small towns or rural areas as an environment for breeding active killers, you still have to wonder whether this could be a factor.


Mass shooting locations: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/

6. Domestic terrorism.

Through the U.S. Patriot Act, which was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, the definition of domestic terrorism is:

• Involves acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law

• Appears intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population

• To influence the policy of a government by intimidation, coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping

• Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

Lately members of the press as well as others have called mass shootings acts of domestic terrorism, but the reasons for most active shooters’ rampage doesn’t quite fit that law because the attacks are more personal and not aimed at the government unless the acts are committed on a government installation.

Active shooters want specific people to pay for whatever wrongs they felt were done to them and their motives are not to coerce or intimidate a population.

Usually in order for someone to have violated a law they have to meet all the criteria of that law.

It’s also interesting to note that for the few shooters that are actually taken into custody – Robert Dear (Colorado Planned Parenthood), Dylann Roof (Charleston church), James Holmes (Colorado movie theatre), One Goh (Oikos University), Amy Bishop (University of Alabama), and Nidal Malik Hasan (Fort Hood) – none of them had been charged with domestic terrorism or anything that falls under the U.S. Patriot Act.

Prosecutors have stated that they are still investigating charging Robert Dear as a domestic terrorist, but also admit that this will take awhile.

A little more than a year after the U.S. Patriot Act was signed, John Allen Muhammad was charged with and later found guilty of domestic terrorism for his role as the D.C. Sniper. However, his partner in crime, Lee Boyd Malvo was not.

Muhammad was executed on November 10, 2009 for his crimes.


Domestic terrorism: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/terrorism/terrorism-definition

D.C. Sniper: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/04/us/dc-area-sniper-fast-facts/

7. Gun free zones.

In 1990 the Gun-Free School Zone Act was introduced by then-Senator Joseph Biden and signed into law a few months later.

The act prohibits anyone who is not an authorized person (such as a cop) to possess a firearm within a school zone.

In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled that the act was an unconstitutional use of Congressional authority; that they didn’t have the right to pass it into law the way it was stated.

In 1995 then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno proposed changes to the act that included “prohibits any person from knowingly possessing a firearm that has moved in or otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.”

These changes were instituted in 1996 and since that time, the act has never challenged by the Supreme Court.

In 2015, while the country was in the midst of frequent mass shootings, people started to suggest establishing gun-free zones in other areas besides schools.

There are several problems with this.

The first is that establishing a zone like the one that exists for the schools is a joke.

The reason why it’s a joke is because it isn’t going to stop an active shooter.

It certainly hasn’t made schools that much safer as is evident in three of the largest mass shootings in U.S. history: Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

In 2015 there were 20 school shootings.

The second problem is that too often a gun-free zone is almost an invitation to an active shooter.

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes picked the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado to kill 12 people and injure 70 others.

There were seven other theaters that Holmes could have chosen, but picked this particular theater because it had a sign posted saying that carrying a concealed handgun was not allowed.

Over 75% of the locations where three or more people were killed by active shooter also banned concealed weapons and yet that didn’t stop the killings.

The third problem is that establishing these zones gives people a false sense of security into thinking they’ll be safe from getting shot.

In 2014, Megan Doto, a pregnant Philadelphia woman, was shot and killed by a gun that was fired from a block away while she was sitting on her front porch steps.

Although the neighborhood she lived in wasn't in a gun-free zone, how much safer can you feel sitting right on your front porch steps with your door inches away?


Gun-free Zone Act: http://smartgunlaws.org/federal-law-on-guns-in-schools/

Megan Doto: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/15/megan-doto_n_5821896.html

8 Guns.

There’s nothing like a mass shooting that brings out the debate between the gun lobbyists and their supporters versus those who are anti-gun.

The arguments are pretty simple: the gun lobbyists (who for the better part work for the NRA – National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers) like things just the way they are so their clients can continue to make money.

Their supporters love their guns and are worried that if stricter gun laws are passed they may lose their Second Amendment rights.

Way over in left field, you have anti-gun advocates who, by the way they talk, want to take everything away and make the government have even more control than what they do now.

Most gun owners are responsible and just want to use their legally purchased firearms to hunt or to protect their homes.

These people abide by the laws that are already set forth. These are not the people that everyone should be worried about.

At least not for the most part.

There should be a data base that lists private gun collectors as well as people who own maybe one or two guns.

There should be a data base that tracks every gun bought and sold in the United States.

There should also be universal background checks.

You would think the gun industry and the NRA would want this as well.

There has to be a semi-happy medium between gun owners and protecting the people from unlawful use of guns.


Second Amendment: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment

9. The active shooter.

By 2012 law enforcement, in order to more effectively deal with mass shootings, developed a profile of an active shooter:• They have few –if any-friends and have socially cut themselves off from others in their environment. This could lead to being bullied.

• These individuals often alienate themselves even from family members.

• They have had certain life experiences that usually render them unhappy and depressed.

• Are often angry enough to want to kill family members, co-workers or anyone whom they feel has slighted them.

• Experience paranoia and often feel they’re being persecuted.

• Tend to blame others for their problems.

• Have a fear of being “found out” which leads them to avoid dealing with the police or health services workers.

• As their paranoia and sense of persecution heightens, the shooter will begin to plan their attack.

• Will try and pick a location where they can go in unnoticed, that has a lot of people in attendance and no police.

• They may demonstrate sudden behaviors such as excessive absences from work, grades dropping at school, or changes in their mood.

• 80% of active shooters are men.

• The attacks aren’t sudden; they have been well thought out and planned.

• The attacks usually follow what the shooter sees as a major loss in their lives such as a loved one dying or a romantic relationship (whether it was real or something they imagined) ending.

• The shooter will communicate their intentions in advance either online, in a letter/journal or to someone they know.


Profile: http://www.policemag.com/blog/swat/story/2012/08/profile-of-an-active-sh...

10. It’s time to have a real conversation.

Right after a mass shooting people express their sadness/anger; attend a nighttime vigil; place candles/teddy bears at make shift memorials; they’ll demand better gun laws; scream about their rights as American citizens; launch into their usual tirade about too much government control; listen as politicians promise to do something, and declare that the dead will never be forgotten; that something will be done to make sure it never happens again.

After a week or two, and once the dead have been buried, people will eventually resume their lives until the next shooting.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There has to be some real conversation that needs to start happening in this country and not the kind that has been taking place where people want to accuse one factor or another of being the problem.

Before any of that can happen, there has to be the acknowledgment by both residents and politicians that America is an angry, violent place.

Although this country was conceived through violence it doesn’t mean it has to remain that way and not only has it remained violent, it has actually gotten worse.

To this end, the mass shootings are deeply connected to the violence that has pulsed through America for centuries.

Sure, Americans hate the shootings. They also feel maligned, threatened and disrespected on a daily basis.

You don’t have to go into the neighborhoods to experience the anger. All you have to do is turn on the television or open a newspaper to watch it via the politicians.

If you want to effectively deal with the problem of mass shootings, you have to deal with the anger and the violence.

Washington D.C. isn’t quite ready to do that because that would mean that they also have to acknowledge their own behavior; to take responsibility for their own actions.

Americans are angry at the government. They are angry at their elected leaders putting their own self-interests first and selling their offices as well as their constituents to big business and their lobbyists.

The politicians are angry too. Usually at one another.

Anger prevents people from being able to effectively communicate and part of effective communication is the ability to listen.

No one in this country is communicating and no one is listening.

If the violence and mass shootings are to stop, effective communication must take place.

Recently President Obama took to the podium to discuss gun control; the steps that need to be taken to keep people safe and to crack down on gun violence.

Of course this was met with a lot of anger with many Republicans and their BFF’s- gun lobbyists -leading the charge.

There will undoubtedly be a rush for people to run out and purchase as many weapons as possible like a teenager railing against their parents for grounding them; it will be an act of defiance based out of fear and even more anger towards the government.

Even if Obama gets his way and these controls are put into place it won’t stop the anger or violence.

It will only temper mass shootings.

Certainly gun control measures may help to dilute these shootings, but it won’t stop them entirely because what Obama is aiming to do is only a band aid; he is failing to look at the entire problem.

Until this country’s leaders are willing to address the more fundamental problems of anger and violence then the shootings will continue.

There is also a critical need to address the mental health issue in this country and the medical community’s failure to provide assistance to those who need it.

Obama and any leader who comes behind him also needs to address the failure of the insurance industry to provide adequate care for those with mental health issues.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the government granting parents all the rights and none of the responsibilities even at the detriment of their own child.

At the same time they have eliminated any rights the schools may have when dealing with a child who exhibits bizarre or unsafe behaviors if the parents refuse the help.

Politicians need to start standing up for the people and stop looking out for their own interests. They can do this by attacking the entire problem and not a small part of it.

To quote Democratic National Committee chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz regarding mass shootings and the lack of responsiveness of Congress, “Stuff doesn't just happen. Inaction happens.”


President Obama: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/04/live-updates-what-president-d...