"Media contagion" is largely responsible for mass shootings
March 6, 2018 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Researchers say there is link between media coverage and rise in mass shootings Studies conducted by data scientists within the FBI, various universities, and the American Psychological Association (Western New Mexico University) show strong correlation between media coverage of mass killers and the rise in mass shootings. posted by fantasticness (137 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can someone better with correlation than I am explain how this is different than the rise in, like, tropical storms vs mass shootings and/or tropical storms vs media coverage?
posted by rokusan at 8:30 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Right, the easy access to automatic weapons has nothing to do with it. Media's fault, obviously. We should maybe arm everyone in the media to fix this issue? Sounds about right.
posted by Grither at 8:31 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


Hmmm. I don't know what happened to all the links that were posted in the extended description section. Maybe they'll come up here instead.

Hmmm. I don't know what happened to all the links posted in the extended description section.








posted by fantasticness at 8:32 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


There's a big space where those links might supposed to be. Unclosed html tags maybe?
posted by eviemath at 8:33 AM on March 6


OK this is a metafilter fail on my part indeed. I've tried twice now to post several links and sources including published report from the APA etc, but none come up. Oh well. Sorry folks.
posted by fantasticness at 8:34 AM on March 6


I see links!
posted by suelac at 8:35 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Suggestion: email the mods with the code for what you want to post; get their help with formatting.
posted by eviemath at 8:35 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


[I've fixed the links in the post - in the future, you can use the Preview function to see whether your links are working.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:35 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Right, the easy access to automatic weapons has nothing to do with it. Media's fault, obviously. We should maybe arm everyone in the media to fix this issue? Sounds about right.

I encourage you to read this with a little more nuance. The researchers don't say that guns aren't a problem - in fact, they point out that the incidence of mass shootings are significantly higher in states with high gun ownership.

They are just also pointing out that the pattern of mass shootings fits a contagion model, where one event triggers other events. Our information environment affects behavior.
posted by entropone at 8:39 AM on March 6 [65 favorites]


Can someone better with correlation than I am explain how this is different than the rise in, like, tropical storms vs mass shootings and/or tropical storms vs media coverage?

Short answer: A plausible mechanism to connect the two.

Longer answer: Welcome to research design! When we are all pure of heart and brave, what we do is have an idea about something and then ask "What would the world look like if this idea were true? Would more of A go along with more of B, or less of B, or be unrelated to B?" Then we go see if the world looks like our idea says it should. Science is generally pretty good about this. "Here is my idea, does the world look like it should if my idea is true?" is the kind of question that scientific data analysis is really really good at. In this case, these folks seem to have an initial idea and some data that corroborates it. The next thing to do is ask "Okay, good so far, but what *else* would be true if our ideas are right?" Like, mass shooters responding to contagion should be more likely to have stuff related to the shooting in their social media stream, maybe. If you see a whole metric crapton of things that you would see if your ideas are right, and keep not seeing things that would be true if competing ideas are right, that's good evidence for your ideas.

Spurious correlations usually arise because someone asked "Here is something. I wonder what causes it?" and threw umpty gajillion variables at it to find what it's correlated with. As a whole analysis, this is dumb and bad and people who do it should feel bad.

The nuance is that it's neither stupid nor bad to *start* by throwing a bunch of data at something to see what it's correlated with, and use that to help develop your ideas about what might be going on. You just can't use the same evidence that inspired your ideas to test your ideas. In the lingo, you need to go find new observable implications.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:44 AM on March 6 [58 favorites]


Interesting.

Right, the easy access to automatic [sic] weapons has nothing to do with it.

Guns are, I suppose by definition, a necessary condition for mass shootings, but they don't seem to be a sufficient condition.

Semiautomatic, box-magazine-fed rifles have been widely available in the US since the end of WWII, starting from when a huge number of them were sold on the surplus market. There is nothing that makes an AR-15 intrinsically more lethal, at close range, than an M1 Carbine, and prior to 1968 you could buy those mail-order and have one shipped to your house, for less than the price—even adjusting for inflation—of a modern gun of similar capabilities.

If they were a sufficient condition, or if mass shootings even tracked the availability of guns in some sort of linear way, we would have seen an absolute explosion in the number of mass shootings starting very abruptly in 1945, and the number should steadily trend upwards due to new manufacture, with perhaps a trend downwards in the 1990s due to the Federal AWB. But that's not what the trend looks like at all.

There are clearly other factors at work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:49 AM on March 6 [36 favorites]


This reminds me of the "contagious suicides" that plagued Guam in the closing decades of the 20th century. (Which I swear we have discussed on the Blue before, but my search-fu is weak.)
posted by murphy slaw at 9:00 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Sure, there are other factors, and great, let's stop naming mass shooters, because that'll reduce the mass shooting by a little bit, maybe.

Or we could, you know, fucking ban the guns that make mass shootings so easy to carry out?

"Largely responsible" my ass*.

* - It's ok, you can tell I don't know shit because I used 'automatic' instead of semiautomatic.
posted by Grither at 9:01 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


Kadin, the Texas Tower shooting was 1966. The infamous St. Valentines Day massacre, 1929.

Our American history is chock a block full of mass shootings that have occurred before the availability of magazine fed carbines, certainly before the 1940s as you suggest.

Shorter: Tis the guns
posted by pdoege at 9:09 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


Charlie Brooker brought this up 9 years ago.

Yes, of course it's the guns, lets go after the guns, but also, maybe figure out how the media is inflaming the situation too.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:09 AM on March 6 [46 favorites]


Just because mass shootings happened before media saturation doesn't mean that media saturation isn't at least partially to blame for speeding up the cycle.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:10 AM on March 6 [27 favorites]


Canada has access to guns and are in the splash zone of American media, so why aren't they affected?
posted by FJT at 9:11 AM on March 6 [11 favorites]


There are clearly other factors at work.
Clearly, since American gun ownership is at its lowest rate in 40 years according to Gallup & the GSS, but gun purchases are at a historic high. It's almost as if a minority but toxic portion of the US population is holding the rest of it hostage.
posted by xyzzy at 9:11 AM on March 6 [69 favorites]


This strikes me as research results tuned very precisely to the NRA's needs, since not only can they use it to claim that ease of gun availability has nothing to do with it, they can also claim that anyone who talks about mass shootings is the Real Problem. It's just about perfectly designed to make sure that mass killings disappear down the memory hole even faster than before.

I'd be real interested to see the money trail behind the research funding, especially since the CDC can't fund studies on gun violence these days.
posted by tavella at 9:14 AM on March 6 [16 favorites]


How do you know we aren't, FJT? It's possible we're not, but I wouldn't be surprised if we did the math and it turns out there is a similar effect in Canada.
posted by ODiV at 9:16 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


When I was in middle school, I got picked on a lot. Why? Because I responded to it, often far out of proportion to what was perpetrated against me. I was like a button that, if pushed, would light up and make sounds. Of course people wanted to keep pushing it.

When Columbine happened, it was like a giant red button had been pushed and the entire sky was full of color - at least, I imagine it was for those future school shooters who were looking for a way to Do Something Memorable. The media focus on the perpetrators made them celebrities on the level of Charles Manson. That sort of notoriety is a very real, tangible incentive to push that button again. It has been so long and there have been so many shootings that the feedback loop is almost pathological at this point. We can't put that cat back in the box and have to staunch the wound by removing guns from the equation (which should have happened long ago), but this is a very, very valuable observation in terms of its application in the future and/or in societies which have not yet experienced the kind of outbreak we're seeing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:16 AM on March 6 [21 favorites]


Dr Park Dietz (the forensic psychiatrist in the Charlie Booker clip) certainly has conclusions I disagree with, but I don't think he's funded by the NRA, no.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:17 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I don't think the data set works - it's too limited and the definition is too vague. Shouldn't mass shootings, if they act as contagions, have started after the dude shot a bunch of people on the UT campus in 1966? That was a mass shooting that has had several movies made about it - talk about a media presence!

Per this, "In 2017, the U.S. saw a total of 346 mass shootings. " ABC15 Arizona link. So they don't occur in any kind of grouping. There is basically one every day. By vague definition, this dataset includes 4 people injured, not necessarily killed. The researchers' dataset only included 'mass killings', 4 people killed. I think they are seriously discounting 'luck', statistically.

Also, the US produced 6million WWII M1 Carbines in total, and approximately 2X the number of AR15s since 1990. Raw numbers matter.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:18 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if we did the math and it turns out there is a similar effect in Canada.

I should have said, "assuming this is really happening." I'm no statistician.
posted by ODiV at 9:27 AM on March 6


This research apparently concludes that "Roughly 20 to 30 percent of such tragedies appear to arise from contagion." so, even in a perfect world where the media didn't report on them, the rate would still be too damn high.

Anyway. the same sort of analysis was done to show that suicide is contagious, right? And other research that says ready access to a firearm makes suicide easier. So it wouldn't be terribly surprising that it's contagious, especially as a lot of shooters and would-be shooters idolize previous famous ones.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:31 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]


I've heard this hypothesis a number of times but I can't really think of a realistic thing that can be done about it. When something terrible happens, people want to know why, they want the details, they want answers. Even if the news just says, "Something terrible happened, a lot of people are dead tragically, but we're not going to talk any more about it because it doesn't actually effect you, person who lives 500 miles away" everyone will just jump on Twitter and Facebook to get the deets from their cousin's uncle's friend's niece who was totally there and it will still be all over everywhere. The landscape of information has changed. I'm not sure that genie can be put back into the bottle. (Number of guns-in-schools events that got reported in the national news in the past two weeks that I wound up having a personal Facebook-related connection to? Two. And my FB friends list is tiny.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:34 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


I saw an article about the kid who almost committed a school shooting in the days after Parkland, but died by suicide instead. It included some of his writings, which were full of praise for Columbine and speculations about what the media was going to ask his parents. He understood there was a script. He wanted to take his place on stage.

It gripped me, and it hasn't let go, because what else did I want when I was thirteen except for my place on stage? And when you are thirteen, your school is the entire world, and all the world's a stage --
posted by Countess Elena at 9:37 AM on March 6 [30 favorites]


The cyrptozoologist Loren Coleman (who has a masters in psychiatric social work) wrote a book in the late 80s, and another in 2004 looking at the copycat effect in murders and suicides. Whether they went apparently mostly unnoticed because of his hunting of 'squatch I don't know (wikipedia claims the Canadian media has sought him out for interviews), but it seemed like some valuable work.

The thing is we've seen in the past that glamourising murder or suicide by repeating their names and manifestos over and over, it teaches other people it's a way to get attention, for whatever reason. There were movements to adjust how waves of suicides were reported in the past, and it improved the situation. We already know that in at least two of the cases in the last couple of weeks the shooters were revering the Columbine shooters...
posted by opsin at 9:39 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]




Well maybe it's this, but it's definitely guns. And guns and guns and guns and guns.

Do something about the guns.
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on March 6 [16 favorites]


tavella: It's just about perfectly designed to make sure that mass killings disappear down the memory hole even faster than before.

It’s boggled my mind how the Las Vegas shooting has quickly shuffled off the front pages, given the circumstances and body count. Mass shooting fatigue aside, a place like Las Vegas which thrives mostly on tourism has every interest in letting this slide down the memory hole with lightning speed. If nobody keeps talking about it, it didn’t happen.
posted by dr_dank at 9:44 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


I posted to the other thread this morning: Accused S.C. teen wanted to outdo other school shootings. The problem, he explained, was the weapon. It's worth blockquoting again, though read the article, the teen was after fame.
Seven hours after he was pinned to the ground outside Townville Elementary by a volunteer firefighter, Jesse acknowledged in an interview with investigators that he'd shot far fewer kids than he'd intended. The problem, he explained, was the weapon. He'd only had access to the .40 caliber pistol his father kept in a dresser drawer. It had jammed on the playground, just 12 seconds after he first pulled the trigger.

The weapon Jesse really wanted, the one he'd tried desperately to get, was, the teenager believed, locked in his father's gun safe: the Ruger Mini-14, a semiautomatic rifle much like the gun that, 17 months later, was fired again and again at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, during one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

...

Jesse could have killed so many more children, he knew, with that Mini-14.

"To the media, it's called an assault rifle," he told interrogators before lamenting, for a second time, that it remained locked away.

But he was wrong.

Soon after the shooting, investigators searched the teen's home for evidence. In his parents' bedroom, they looked in the closet, and there, outside the safe and just feet from his father's dresser, was the weapon Jesse coveted.
posted by Catblack at 9:45 AM on March 6 [39 favorites]


Has anyone in this thread discussed not doing anything about the guns? We can walk and chew gum, right? We've had a LOT of long threads about the guns, most mefites agree - it's the guns. So why not talk about this too?

Related, I want to see research on how the "good guy with a guy" mentality grows alongside "rogue cop/investigator/ex-spy/etc saves everyone by not following the rules" shows. I believe(?) there is already research that shows people who watch a lot of that type of show are more likely to feel favorably about cops, even if they've been proven to have broken the law. The shows train people to see those things as justified.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:47 AM on March 6 [36 favorites]


The Greeks had a handle on it when they imposed damnatio mamoriae on a youth who burned the temple of Artemis.
posted by ocschwar at 9:55 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


I thought copycats of these events was a Known Thing, but I feel like they're taking the old publicity angle and recasting it as "media contagion," which seems a little weak.
“I wondered if it was just a statistical fluke, or if somehow through news media those events were sometimes planting unconscious ideation in vulnerable people for a short time after each event,” she said.
Reads a little magically to me.
posted by rhizome at 9:55 AM on March 6


Information having a material impact on behavior is not magical.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:58 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Kadin, the Texas Tower shooting was 1966. The infamous St. Valentines Day massacre, 1929....Shorter: Tis the guns

You're comparing apples to oranges. This analysis was about "high-profile mass killings and school shootings." The St. Valentines Day massacre was gang violence. The Texas Tower shooter fits the bill better, but he had a brain tumor, which was discovered shortly afterwards and likely affected the media coverage.

This contagion theory seems like a very reasonable contributing factor to school shootings. Columbine, unlike the previous shootings, seems to have set a pattern that others disturbed individuals now imitate in its aftermath. Tools and the behaviors around using those tools are two separate things (e.g. if you give someone a baseball who's never seen a game of baseball, they're not going to invent the game).
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:03 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Well, the OP titled the thread "'Media contagion' is largely responsible for mass shootings," which I don't think is an accurate representation about the research the main article discusses, let alone mass shootings in general. I'm sure it's a contributing factor, which is something the study points out, and I have no problem with the idea of not granting infamy to the shooters. I don't believe, however, in the idea that it's the driving factor, and therefore that should be given equal or possibly more attention and resources than effective gun control. And there are other factors that have been pointed out elsewhere in this thread that, broadly speaking, refute the thesis.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:04 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


It may be worth mentioning that Stephen King ceased reprints of his Richard Bachman novella, Rage, after the book was found in the possession of five school shooters, one of whom went after his teacher for giving him a bad grade on his essay about the book.
posted by xyzzy at 10:11 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


Columbine, unlike the previous shootings, seems to have set a pattern that others disturbed individuals now imitate in its aftermath.

Bull. The Columbine shooting is still unique in that it had 2 shooters. To say that all these shooters are 'imitating' Columbine because they carry weapons and wear coats or whatever is nonsense.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:15 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


If you pay attention to what Stephen King says, especially since Newtown, he obviously believes that the problem leans far more towards the availability of guns and how out-of-control "gun culture" has become, rather than media inspiration.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:16 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


This contagion theory seems like a very reasonable contributing factor to school shootings. Columbine, unlike the previous shootings, seems to have set a pattern that others disturbed individuals now imitate in its aftermath. Tools and the behaviors around using those tools are two separate things (e.g. if you give someone a baseball who's never seen a game of baseball, they're not going to invent the game).

And how.

I brought a cricket bat to Israel from a visit to Oz when I was a kid.

You know what happens when kids raised on soccer and basketballs come across a batting sport?
2 of my playmates got their skulls cracked standing as catcher/wicketsman.
posted by ocschwar at 10:17 AM on March 6


so... it's time for the most obvious 'fixed that for you' here for some time:
"Media contagion" is largely responsible a significant but not necessarily primary factor for mass shootings
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:20 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


Sadly relevant is an old essay on the issue: Is suicide at MIT a Piosson process?

Note that just because only 20% of these events are being attributed to specific prior shootings, doesn't mean the remaining 80% are in part the result of a society saturated in reporting of every shooting from Columbine onwards, making sure that every disaffected young man out there has at least heard the idea that a mass shooting is the proper response for feeling put upon.
posted by ocschwar at 10:24 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I got that from a direct quote from the American Psych Association article ...

" reviewed data on mass shootings amassed by media outlets, the FBI and advocacy organizations, as well as scholarly articles, to conclude that “media contagion” is largely responsible for the increase in these often deadly outbursts."

Not saying I disagree with your edit- Just so you know it's not me you're editing. Wouldn't want people to think I just made up the title to stir up drama. : /
posted by fantasticness at 10:26 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


"Increase" does a lot of work in that sentence, imo.
posted by ODiV at 10:27 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Information having a material impact on behavior is not magical.

Well...yeah. I had a first sentence, too.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on March 6


fantasticness: "I got that from a direct quote from the American Psych Association article ...

" reviewed data on mass shootings amassed by media outlets, the FBI and advocacy organizations, as well as scholarly articles, to conclude that “media contagion” is largely responsible for the increase in these often deadly outbursts."

Not saying I disagree with your edit- Just so you know it's not me you're editing. Wouldn't want people to think I just made up the title to stir up drama. : /"

What page is that quote on? I'm not seeing it on any of the pages you linked....
posted by Grither at 10:34 AM on March 6


If they were a sufficient condition, or if mass shootings even tracked the availability of guns in some sort of linear way, we would have seen an absolute explosion in the number of mass shootings starting very abruptly in 1945, and the number should steadily trend upwards due to new manufacture, with perhaps a trend downwards in the 1990s due to the Federal AWB. But that's not what the trend looks like at all.

I don't have data on hand reaching back to the 1945, but in regards to the AWB, it did actually result both in fewer mass shootings and longer intervals between them. It was thrown off by 1999 being a particularly gruesome year, but the shocking rise after the ban ended in 2004 is crystal-clear, and that was in spite of it being undermined substantially both prior to passage and by law enforcement during the ban itself.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:34 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


This A/B mentality is fucking nuts. It is like people can't accept that two things are simultaneously true.

- Media coverage of acts of mass violence incentivize attention-hungry psychopaths to inflict acts of mass violence
- Guns (especially assault rifles) make acts of mass violence very, very easy to perpetrate in a way that no other weapons readily available in the US do

And anyone who thinks that post-Columbine school shooters, despite being single actors, didn't use that event as a tactical reference, or at the very least an inspiration, is kidding themselves. Everything about that incident is obsessively detailed, including the journals of the killers. You can even play video games in which you are the murderers. There are fucking fan clubs for the murderers. The Newtown shooter was obsessed with them. It has nothing to do with overcoats and everything to do with one-upsmanship.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:37 AM on March 6 [57 favorites]


Clearly, since American gun ownership is at its lowest rate in 40 years according to Gallup & the GSS, but gun purchases are at a historic high. It's almost as if a minority but toxic portion of the US population is holding the rest of it hostage.

There is roughly one gun per person in the US, yet about 75% of Americans do not own a gun. Even more tellingly, 3% of Americans own 50% of all guns. Do a political and psychological survey of that 3% and you will know exactly who the firearm manufacturers and their mouthpiece the NRA are targeting. [source: Quartz]
posted by jim in austin at 10:39 AM on March 6 [18 favorites]


Grither, I think that's from here. Of course, it also goes on to say this:
“Unfortunately, we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame,” she said. This quest for fame among mass shooters skyrocketed since the mid-1990s “in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hour news coverage on cable news programs, and the rise of the internet during the same period.”
But as pointed out in the link from my previous comment, the mid-90s was actually one of the time periods where mass shootings were at a low ebb.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:39 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


There is at least one country that believes in some form of "media contagion theory":

China has so far been very successful in regulating online space by encouraging public discussions, providing outlets for public grievances, but restricting ill-meant rumors and information that might impact negatively social stability or incur social panic.

This is from an op-ed I read that says China's attempt to curb the excesses of the internet has been proven to be the better model (compared to The West) due to the 2016 election. And I think mass shootings are also another example where this model could result in preventing deaths.

Now, I'm not using the Chinese approach as an example in order to disprove media contagion theory, but more saying there are trade-offs in trying to manage media and social media. Wanting to do 'Something' about media contagion when mass shootings occur is in some ways pitting the the first and second amendments against one another.
posted by FJT at 10:42 AM on March 6


@Girther Ok, so I see that I gave the link for the direct report but without the link that brought me that report. So here it is.
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/08/media-contagion.aspx

It summarizes their beliefs and goes into exactly how much of a difference they think it would make in the rate of shootings. That's where the title and sentence came from.
posted by fantasticness at 10:43 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Fame qua fame? I'm skeptical. Attention? Sure. A connection to life, sure. Revenge against their oppressors, sure. But "fame?"
posted by rhizome at 10:43 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


The availability of guns is a necessary condition for the huge amount of ongoing gun violence in the U.S. The recent trend toward mass shootings also requires guns, but is obviously also something distinct.
posted by atoxyl at 10:44 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


Now, I'm not using the Chinese approach as an example in order to disprove media contagion theory, but more saying there are trade-offs in trying to manage media and social media.

Well one major difference could be media policing themselves. I don't think anyone who argues the media contagion theory suggests government censorship. If you find anyone who does, rest assured pretty much everyone else would disagree with them.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:46 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. This needs to not be about the OP; to that end, fantasticness: you're pretty new to Mefi and your participation has been conspicuously focused on this one issue. When you post to Metafilter the expectation is that the linked material stands or falls on its own, and the poster isn't meant to be advancing a thesis or whatever. So at this point please take a step back in here. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:48 AM on March 6 [11 favorites]


There is roughly one gun per person in the US, yet about 75% of Americans do not own a gun. Even more tellingly, 3% of Americans own 50% of all guns. Do a political and psychological survey of that 3% and you will know exactly who the firearm manufacturers and their mouthpiece the NRA are targeting.

And, we should all be reminded, the vast majority of lawful gun owners don't commit these kind of terrible crimes.

There were policies in place in Florida that hindered tracking and identification of the recent murderer. If school officials had been able to red-flag him in advance, lives might have been saved.
posted by theorique at 10:49 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


@LobsterMitten oh sorry. :( Thanks for letting me know.
posted by fantasticness at 10:56 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


- Media coverage of acts of mass violence incentivize attention-hungry psychopaths to inflict acts of mass violence
- Guns (especially assault rifles) make acts of mass violence very, very easy to perpetrate in a way that no other weapons readily available in the US do


Add to that:

- The development of a militant and reactionary movement that's increasingly turning to violence as a form of political action. Cruz, Roof, and Fields all seem to be part of a pattern.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:06 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


About Canada, if we're different (and I have no idea if we are, except in the availability of guns - most of what's available has a magazine capacity of like six to eight bullets, or are shotguns), I wonder if the Marc Lepine mass shooting might have something to do with it. Everybody alive in Canada in the 90s knows who Marc Lepine is, but there was a concerted effort to profile his victims, and every year I still see people posting his victims' names, and I do it too (I keep a jpg of the memorial listing them on my phone for this purpose). If you observe that after an initial splash, it's the people who you hate who will be memorialized, maybe that's a disincentive. I don't know.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:08 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]




Some good news: Oregon becomes first state to add new gun law since Parkland shooting

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed a bill into law Monday that blocks convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, making the state the first to add a new gun safety law since the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, HuffPost reported.

Domestic violence strangely missing from the OP story.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


"And, we should all be reminded, the vast majority of lawful gun owners don't commit these kind of terrible crimes."

I think the NRA does a great job of reminding us about that. I think that we all need to be reminded that vast majority of drunk drivers don't kill anyone with their vehicle.

"If school officials had been able to red-flag him in advance, lives might have been saved."

Yeah, he wasn't a student. They had expelled him. The article you linked to is explicitly critiquing the movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline, and doesn't actually have any real analysis of the problem of school shootings. It comes from a institute that pushed the 'broken windows' theory of police enforcement and seems to advocate stop-and-frisk laws.
posted by el io at 11:22 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


Columbine didn't use that event as a tactical reference, or at the very least an inspiration, is kidding themselves.

They aren't using it as a tactical reference either. Columbine used pistols and shotguns they personally sawed off. They built bombs they placed everywhere and attempted to use in the attack. Walking around and shooting unarmed people doesn't really require special 'tactics'. Fine if you want to say that studied Columbine and want to 'inspire or one up' them, I'd agree, but that's not copying them nor is it fame (I really like Madonna, so I'd like to have more top 10 hits than her- nobody says that) but rather some generic desire for competition.

FTA:
" (famous people's) suicide was contagious. Johnston noted that there was “a clear decline” in suicide by 1997, a couple of years after the Centers for Disease Control convened a working group of suicidologists,"
Well, maybe there was a fall, but it doesn't seem to be correlated with famous suicides or media influence because the rate has been steadily increasing since. US suicide rates Whatever happened between 1990 - 2000 did lower the suicide rate, but if it was 'contagious' then shouldn't it still be low? The suicide rate is higher now than it was in 1997.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:23 AM on March 6


Whatever happened between 1990 - 2000 did lower the suicide rate, but if it was 'contagious' then shouldn't it still be low?

Absolutely not. You can have short term contagion and long term downward trends.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:25 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I've heard this hypothesis a number of times but I can't really think of a realistic thing that can be done about it. When something terrible happens, people want to know why, they want the details, they want answers. Even if the news just says, "Something terrible happened, a lot of people are dead tragically, but we're not going to talk any more about it because it doesn't actually effect you, person who lives 500 miles away" everyone will just jump on Twitter and Facebook to get the deets from their cousin's uncle's friend's niece who was totally there and it will still be all over everywhere.

The suggestion I've heard is that, yes, you talk about the victims and the community and the damage that has been done, but say as little as possible about the perpetrator, and certainly don't get into the recesses of his mind and what tactical gear he was wearing and shot-by-shot recreations of the attack. We've turned a lot of these guys into tortured antiheroes whose names we all know, whereas I'm not sure I could come up with the full name of a single person who has been killed in a mass shooting in this country. Flipping that around would be a start.
posted by Copronymus at 11:25 AM on March 6 [19 favorites]


Oh yes, joannemerriam has the right point exactly.

I've heard this hypothesis a number of times but I can't really think of a realistic thing that can be done about it.

There's a real obvious way to stop it.

Quit focusing on the shooters. Focus on the victims. If you center the coverage on the victims, you deny that "taking my place on that world stage" attention that motivates some of these asshole kids. If you refer only to the shooters in disparaging terms--"that whiny tool--no, have you heard Elliot Rogers' manifesto? It's pathetic"--then the impetus to be a big man by imitating them suddenly shrinks. Humanize the shooters, sure, but point out that they are shriveled, pathetic, greedy, foolish, and above all selfish, not evil alone. Evil is cool. Don't let anything cool stick to the coat tails of these rotten, leaking minds when you talk about them.

But we persist instead in making them monsters, not pitiable, shrunken whiners who want to be famous without having to do anything to deserve our regard. We mythologize these shooters. We remember their names. What were the names of the Columbine victims again? Sandy Hook? The Vegas shooting? Who were they? What did they do, besides die? There's usually someone who does something brave in these shootings. Find out who, and tell their story--pick out who they were and what they did, and focus on how clever they were, how brave, how much potential they had. Think about the heroes of your story, and quit giving so much air time to think pieces centering on the mental health of these losers with weapons.
posted by sciatrix at 11:26 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


Absolutely not. You can have short term contagion and long term downward trends.

Well long term upward trend, but I'm still saying that stopping 'contagion' may have some effect but not that much of one. I'd declare it the social services equivalent of 'bikeshedding'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:28 AM on March 6


Well one major difference could be media policing themselves. I don't think anyone who argues the media contagion theory suggests government censorship.

Well, the old gatekeepers are mostly gone and new media have proven time and time again to be pretty terrible at policing themselves in both big and little ways. All Twitter and Facebook will probably do is add a new option for "irresponsible news" when reporting a tweet/post and call it a day.
posted by FJT at 11:30 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Well you can believe that media and humanity are unable to police themselves in any meaningful ways and so they only solution is to be like China, but I have more hope for us that just talking about the issue can convince people to both make and engage with media in different ways. Sure, awful people will likely still be awful, that's not a reason to give up and give it over to the government (or throw up our hands because nothing can be done).
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:33 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I think the NRA does a great job of reminding us about that. I think that we all need to be reminded that vast majority of drunk drivers don't kill anyone with their vehicle.

You mean the majority of drivers don't kill anyone with their vehicle.

It's insane how little attention is afforded to the actual motivating factors for people that want to kill other people, in favor of slamming the 'let's yell about guns' button (in both directions).
posted by so fucking future at 11:33 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


It doesn't help that we have a large sub-culture (egged-on/created by the likes of Alex Jones) that doesn't believe the shootings are real.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:34 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Alex Jones is another great reason to focus on victims and community, not the murderers and body count.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:35 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


"Well long term upward trend, but I'm still saying that stopping 'contagion' may have some effect but not that much of one."

Well, if more responsible news coverage could prevent 5% of suicides, or of mass murders, then it's certainly worth the media changing their behavior to accomplish this.

Similarly, I don't think we should discount the lack of mental health services in the country as a factor, and if we invested in the availability (and reduced the stigmatization around seeking care), I think we'd also see a drop in these incidents.

And it's great and important to take steps that impact the number of these incidents. You know, if you have diabetes, maybe don't take sugar in your coffee.

But also we need to take significant and drastic steps to reduce the availability of all guns in this country. Because eliminating the sugar in your coffee is pretty silly if you are still eating two donuts with your coffee every day.

Here's something that I think is pretty awesome that we could borrow from Canada (that might reduce domestic violence death from guns - you know, a bigger problem than school shootings): if you want a gun in your household you need to have every adult in the household to literally sign a piece of paper in front of a witness saying that you okay with a gun in your house. It's hard to fabricate a compelling argument against this.
posted by el io at 11:35 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


FYI this is a study from 2015. The framing of this post is weird.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:38 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


Also the APA and Western NM university are not the same entities. The APA is just hosting what appears to be a copy of a 2015 symposium proceeding by two researchers at WNMU. Just to clarify since these studies are being presented kind of oddly here.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:43 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Fine if you want to say that studied Columbine and want to 'inspire or one up' them, I'd agree, but that's not copying them nor is it fame (I really like Madonna, so I'd like to have more top 10 hits than her- nobody says that) but rather some generic desire for competition.

I didn't mention fame, and I didn't say that anybody copied Columbine. But subsequent school shooters have absolutely studied it, noticed what went wrong, and adjusted their plans accordingly to maximize bloodshed and minimize the chance that they would die. And 100% of major pop stars want to out-do their idols. I mean, seriously, WTF do you think breaking world records in sports is about? Why do people sign up to be on reality TV? Why do people fly chairs outfitted with balloons or pretend that their child is trapped in a balloon? Fame. Infamy. People will do literally anything for it, because it is a form of immortality. And shooting up a school has about 100% likelihood of success on that front.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:43 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


But we persist instead in making them monsters, not pitiable, shrunken whiners who want to be famous without having to do anything to deserve our regard.

Here, I disagree a bit. There's a lots of press about how these guys are "troubled" and "disaffected" and not enough about how they're hateful bigots murdering other people for ridiculous and reprehensible ideologies. We need to start calling terrorism terrorism, and it's astounding to me that we're not talking about these guys in the same light as McVeigh, Roof, Rudolph, and Smith, as people who committed horrible murders for reasons that we name reprehensible.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:46 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


We know TONS about them, because they are the exact same jackasses evrey time: male, usually white, usually from a pretty privileged background, usually with a history of domestic violence, always with anger issues, always blowing up over some perceived slight, always with access to guns. These peopel are in no way mysterious, interesting or an unknown quantity.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]


Guns are the means, media coverage is the motive and a room full of kids is the opportunity. I don't actually know which leg of that stool is easier to kick out, but I'd aim for the first two simultaneously.
posted by Leon at 11:54 AM on March 6 [11 favorites]


And, we should all be reminded, the vast majority of lawful gun owners don't commit these kind of terrible crimes.

Dude--that is well covered. After every major mass shooting, there's a veritable chorus, from sea to shining sea, loudly chanting the same discordant "don't punish lawful gun owners." It's sung in a round, along with "guns don't shoot themselves" and "it's not a gun problem, it's a heart problem." It's Row Row Row Your Boat, except:

Guns, Guns, Guns, Guns
Guns Don't Shoot Themselves
It's Not a Gun Problem It Is A Heart Problem
Don't Take Guns From Me

And every time the chorus starts back up, it misses the point: even if 99% of Rocket Propelled Grenade owners are incredibly responsible and only blow up stuff on their own property and in annual Blowing Stuff Up Competitions for fun and prizes, an RPG is still an incredibly dangerous weapon that shouldn't be sold to the general public. Even if only .01% of RPG owners aim them at their girlfriends, the guy who cut them off on the highway, or--god help us--the nearby elementary school, that's still way too much completely avoidable carnage, and the right of movie-watchers, concert-goers, and six-year-olds to continue successfully breathing outweighs everyone else's right to try for the blue ribbon in Blowing Stuff Up the Best. The only question is whether something like an AR-15 should be categorized as "yeah, okay, this makes sense for hunters and sportsmen to own" or "no, dear God, are you kidding me, this only belongs in military armories and even then be careful with that thing, holy Jesus." For my money, the evidence of umpteen bizillion mass shooting definitely puts high-velocity, high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles in category two and it's only because something has gone pretty rotten in American culture that this is even a question.

And, however you want to justify gun ownership, it's been shown again and again that owning a gun makes you more likely to die violently, not less. " In 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not." And that's just murder. Add in suicide (which is on my mind this week because two good friends lost family members to suicide in February) and the number jump higher still.

This whole gun discussion in America is exhausting, because it boils down to "Yes, easily access to powerful weapons makes mass shootings more likely, but I, a gentle, law-abiding person, need access to those weapons so I can...um...double my chances of violent death." Or, maybe, in the best argument for unrestricted guns: "Yes, they enable mass shootings, and yes, they double owners' chances of violent death, but look, man...I really, really like shooting things. Like, a whole lot." Case closed.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:54 AM on March 6 [39 favorites]


> Here, I disagree a bit. There's a lots of press about how these guys are "troubled" and "disaffected" and not enough about how they're hateful bigots murdering other people for ridiculous and reprehensible ideologies.

Won't work (IMO). Better a dead bad guy than a live nobody. Your approach increases notoriety.
posted by Leon at 11:56 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the page "Earthquakes: Whose Fault?" in Science Made Stupid.
posted by plinth at 11:56 AM on March 6


Aristotle gave us the vocabulary to discuss this: the easy availability of guns is a material cause, while media contagion is an efficient cause. Material causes are necessary elements, the reagents for the chemical reaction; efficient causes are the catalyst, the event or force that actually starts the thing.

Changing either or both causes is a reasonable strategy for addressing the outcome. Ban guns means no material cause; disrupting media contagion by not publicizing shootings so much (or in the same way) means no efficient cause. Walking and chewing gum.
posted by fatbird at 12:06 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I think it's time for a bold idea, which is why I support the 'American Body Armor National Distribution And Industrial Development' Act. There's no way to stop a guy with a gun, so we might as well all wear ballistic resistant fabrics and look good while wearing them.
posted by FJT at 12:14 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


This is interesting modeling, but I think they're being a little too hasty in suggesting causality and the actual causal process seems under-theorized (from the first link):

[the alluded-to researchers] determined that mass killings – events with four or more deaths – and school shootings create a period of contagion

They're relying on a metaphor of biological processes to explain social processes; it could be roughly accurate, but this language bothers me because the actual phenomena being discussed cannot be contagious in the literal sense. If angry, isolated, aggrieved young men are being inspired to commit murder, we need language and an explanation that accurately reflects this process.

that lasts an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of such tragedies appear to arise from contagion.

This is too far toward metaphor to be accurate, and it feels irresponsible to characterize it this way. Murderousness is not a disease that gets passed from person to person; we can't blame mass shootings on "contagion," especially when our only evidence amounts to post hoc ergo propter hoc.

I'm sure there could be a good and interesting reason that mass shootings can be clustered in a temporal sense, but saying that they're "contagious" is frankly irresponsible and premature.
posted by clockzero at 12:33 PM on March 6


Similarly, I don't think we should discount the lack of mental health services in the country as a factor, and if we invested in the availability (and reduced the stigmatization around seeking care), I think we'd also see a drop in these incidents.

I so, so wish people would stop tossing out "mental illness" in this discussion, unless it's to talk about how the vast majority (as in over 99%) of mass shooters have not been mentally ill, and the mentally ill are far, far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Rather, mass shooters are almost all entirely men who have some history of reported violence or violent ideations. That's what I like about the Oregon law; it strikes one of the roots of the problem (the other, naturally, being access to powerful firearms).

I do like the idea that maybe, if the media went as in-depth into the victims - who they were, what they aspired to be, what their friends and family thought of them - as opposed to taking this kind of depth about the shooter, well, who knows? Might help to break up the contagion. At the very least it would show a lot more compassion.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:38 PM on March 6 [17 favorites]


Another way of looking at this:

Suppose tomorrow everyone in power starts working on restricting weapons in the US. I don't know, say there is a mass shooting in a congressman kids school, or at a Senators private club or whatever to finally motivate them.

There are enough weapons that you won't be able to get rid of them overnight, doubly so due to all the laws preventing there from being a list of who owns what (which is exactly the point of those laws).

So, even if tomorrow all sale of high capacity magazines stopped (Canada's approach: No rifles can have a magazine capacity of more then 5 rounds [some historical exceptions allowed]), or even stopped the sale of both magazines and semi-automatic rifles, coupled with a buyback, you are going to have a large number of these weapons that are floating around illegally for a long time. Which isn't to say banning them isn't a great idea, as the number will drop over time as they are seized, break down, etc.

But it means that research into how to discourage shootings isn't wasted, as you want something to prevent people from committing shootings while the weapons leave circulation. Plus, we still have shootings in Canada, they just tend to have lower body counts. Which is BETTER, but I remember the Dawson Collage shooting (2006, had a semi-automatic rifle but I don't see anything about illegal magazines, so he had to stop and reload every five shots). So even with better (though not good enough weapons laws), you will still get shootings unless you go as far as Japan has done (which seems unlikely to be possible in the US or Canada due to the hunting culture).
posted by Canageek at 12:38 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Here's something that I think is pretty awesome that we could borrow from Canada (that might reduce domestic violence death from guns - you know, a bigger problem than school shootings): if you want a gun in your household you need to have every adult in the household to literally sign a piece of paper in front of a witness saying that you okay with a gun in your house. It's hard to fabricate a compelling argument against this.

It would be neat if this were true. What's your source? My household has a gun (my husband's hunting rifle) and I never had to sign anything with regards to it.

There happens to be a nice summary of gun control in Canada up in this r/Canada post right now. I just stumbled upon it by chance, so if anyone is interested in the topic: https://www.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/827k8i/a_summary_of_the_canadian_gun_control_system/
posted by kitcat at 12:39 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


This whole gun discussion in America is exhausting...

because the only actual answer is one people with the power to do anything don't actually want to do.

I don't want discussion. The discussion is over. I want change. Time to take the power away from them.
posted by Artw at 12:41 PM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Regarding the idea that the number of mass shootings has increased in recent years, an interesting link was posted upthread by ruthsarian: Mass Shootings Are Getting Deadlier, Not More Frequent. The article features this chart showing that the number of mass shootings adjusted for U.S. population has been fairly steady for decades, with a lull around the turn of the century. That was the starting point for this FBI study (PDF) showing an increase during the years 2000 to 2013.
posted by exogenous at 12:55 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


"It would be neat if this were true. What's your source? My household has a gun (my husband's hunting rifle) and I never had to sign anything with regards to it."

I apologize. I was misinformed (by a Canadian gun owning friend that probably misinterpreted the form). Weirdly a brief google shows nothing about this at all, and the actual Canadian application to own a firearm shows something different than I understood: "If the signature of your current spouse, common-law or other conjugal partner is not provided, the Chief Firearms Officer has a duty to notify them of your application."

That being said, it would be neat if it were true, and I'd be very pleased if my misunderstanding were law.
posted by el io at 12:57 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


They're relying on a metaphor of biological processes to explain social processes

Trying not to be too snarky, but another possibility is that they're using the English language like boringly normal people use it every day. It's perfectly cromulent to use a word in one context that doesn't capture, and isn't intended to capture, every aspect and connotation of how that word was used in its original, technical context.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:22 PM on March 6


"I so, so wish people would stop tossing out "mental illness" in this discussion, unless it's to talk about how the vast majority (as in over 99%) of mass shooters have not been mentally ill, and the mentally ill are far, far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. "

While I absolutely agree that it's harmful and misleading to put forth the idea that the mentally ill are a danger to others, the link that you gave to support that assertion does not say what you said it did.
Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. In contrast, deaths by suicide using firearms account for the majority of yearly gun-related deaths.
This quote supports the assertion that mass killings should not be the focus of our concern over gun violence. Mass killings are a tiny fraction of gun violence related deaths, and even if there were never a single mass killing again in the US, we'd still have an epidemic of gun violence unmatched anywhere. It concerns me that all of the discussions the country is having about gun control are fixated on school shootings; solving the school shooting problem won't fix the gun death epidemic.

That being said, it seems pretty unintuitive to suggest that the mass murderers who kill large groups of civilians are mentally healthy.

I continued to read past that statistic in the beginning of that study, and understand that the authors were attempting to show that there isn't data to suggest that mass-killers are mentally ill; but that's largely because there is a small sample size, and its a difficult thing to study. I also understand that the mentally ill are far far more likely to kill themselves than others. But that still shows a glaring need for better mental health services, which the US is sorely lacking. Until health insurance (ideally universal) covers mental health (beyond merely drugging folks with drugs than can have side effects of things like suicide), the country will continue to have a mental health crisis.
posted by el io at 1:26 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


An interesting talk by expert and psychologist LTC Dave Grossman (ret), who wrote several books on killing. (One of them was actually called On Killing.)
posted by theorique at 1:32 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I so, so wish people would stop tossing out "mental illness" in this discussion, unless it's to talk about how the vast majority (as in over 99%) of mass shooters have not been mentally ill, and the mentally ill are far, far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

This. So much this.
The growing focus on “mental illness” is very, very worrisome to me, speaking as someone who would definitely be considered “mentally ill.” I have no confidence that, in today’s political environment, some truly knuckleheaded-yet-dangerously-scapegoating legislation won’t be trotted-out for serious consideration in one state or another.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:50 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


This is a really good study but I'm surprised people here are disputing it and I think the title of the post has a lot to do with it. Exposure to mass shootings is giving people the idea and motivation to carry out a mass shooting, not the means and "the media" isn't causing anything really.

I mean, we know this already right? It's also why disparate people are driving trucks into crowds or shooting up nightclubs then claiming they did it for ISIS when ISIS has never heard of them. It's why teenage suicides occur in clusters and why when one state passes a novel law, others follow. It's why strong interconnected societies become more tolerant and isolated societies become more authoritarian and less tolerant. It's why governments ban books and repress freedom of speech and travel and why people are willing to due for causes as long as it makes the news.

This is how humans work. We see, we like, we do. Good and bad. If you don't want people to try a behavior out, never let them hear about it.
posted by fshgrl at 1:54 PM on March 6 [8 favorites]


el io - that sentence about the spouse's signature sounded familiar, so I took a look at the form. Sure looks like I would have had to sign it. So you may very well be right. I'll see if my husband remembers, and report back.
posted by kitcat at 2:14 PM on March 6


The shooter of the Texas Tower did have a tumour, but he was also a long-term domestic abuser, surprise surprise. There is a really good site at Behind the Tower which includes essays from UT students on things like a history of mass shootings, contemporary press coverage of the Tower shootings, the effect of armed civilians joining in the attempts to stop the shooter and some other interesting material.

I also recommend 'Tower' which is about the 1966 Texas Tower shooting. It's worth watching anyway, because it's beautifully done, with the use of Rotoscoped actors speaking the words of the real people involved and you really do get the sense of what it was like on a hot lazy day to be a young cop skipping stones across the water, or a kid delivering newspapers with his cousin, or a heavily pregnant girl in love. It does focus on the victims, to the point where the shooter's name is mentioned I think only once. At the very end they play some media commentary which asks the ‘why?’ question and draws parallels between the Vietnam war and the shooter, commenting on how a disregard for life in one sphere bleeds out into another.

Disclaimer: am Australian, grew up in the country with guns in the house, believe gun control is necessary and that easy access to guns is the main reason the US has more than 4x the homicide rate and 10x the death-by-firearm rate (per capita) we do. But it’s not either-or, and there are big cultural factors as well. It would be foolish to think the media coverage of these incidents has no part to play when many of the perpetrators of this crime openly state as much and there's a cult of worshipping Elliot Rodger and the Coumbine shooters.
posted by andraste at 2:15 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Contagion, huh? Sounds like just the sort of thing the CDC was set up to study. Except for this. My go to argument when it comes to firearms regulation is "can we at least repeal the Dickey amendment?" I have yet to hear a cogent argument in favor of keeping it, and it is such a small step in the overall scheme of things, yet there has been no move towards getting rid of it.
posted by TedW at 2:20 PM on March 6 [9 favorites]


>Right, the easy access to automatic weapons has nothing to do with it. Media's fault, obviously. We should maybe arm everyone in the media to fix this issue? Sounds about right.

It's not like there's a single problem with the issue and if we just address that it'll all go away. Ban all firearms today, there will still be a mass shooting tomorrow or in a week or month, however frequent they happen. Media is one of the big problems along with lots of others. It contributes to this culture of mass violence. The way mass shootings are glorified and capitalized on contributes to the phenomena. Frighteningly, it makes mass shootings profitable! Why would the NRA or news media give two shits about actually stopping the issue at hand when they are making money from it?
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:47 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


It has nothing to do with overcoats and everything to do with one-upsmanship

There are often posts on 4chan where people talk openly about wanting to set a new high score.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:50 PM on March 6


the vast majority (as in over 99%) of mass shooters have not been mentally ill

That's not what the paper you linked says. It says that most did not have a history of psychiatric treatment for "serious" mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia, chronic psychosis, etc.).

The information that comes out about the shooters after the fact suggests that most of them had some sort of untreated mental illness or at least serious personality disorder.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:05 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Can someone better with correlation than I am explain how this is different than the rise in, like, tropical storms vs mass shootings and/or tropical storms vs media coverage?

It has to do largely with Granovetter's Threshold and riot theory.

There's a great article over at the New Yorker from some time ago that examines this specifically as relates to school shootings, and I thoroughly recommend it as a read, but the key takeaway is:
But Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them.

In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

... Granovetter thought that the threshold hypothesis could be used to describe everything from elections to strikes, and even matters as prosaic as how people decide it’s time to leave a party. He was writing in 1978, long before teen-age boys made a habit of wandering through their high schools with assault rifles. But what if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is to go back and use the Granovetterian model—to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?
So essentially, the publicizing of each shooter is a countdown timer on someone's individual threshold - and as more are publicized, the likelihood of individuals deciding it's the time to join in is higher.
posted by corb at 4:34 PM on March 6 [8 favorites]


... all the laws preventing there from being a list of who owns what (which is exactly the point of those laws) - Canageek

To this (somewhat) relevant tangent - this short doc is worth a watch: Guns Found Here.
posted by kneecapped at 4:40 PM on March 6


So essentially, the publicizing of each shooter is a countdown timer on someone's individual threshold
And we've established in this thread that large numbers of them are interested in 'one upsmanship', which means that if you publicize a list of the people injured or killed, then they can continue their game with a simple tally.

So you can't publicize the shooter as it leads to riot mentality and you can't publicize the victims because of one-upsmanship.

Where does that leave us? And is that a successful strategy for literally anything else? CEO pay? Human rights? If it had never been brought up, would there be a transgender bathroom debate?

What about the downside of not reporting? You think the conspiracy theory nuts are bad now, what if they can't be refuted because the events aren't reported on? What are the ramifications of that?
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:57 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


It's called Herostratic fame. Yes, we've known mass shootings were "contagious", but more specific evidence is always good.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:26 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I think there’s a difference between not reporting, and not reporting as breathlessly as currently happens. If news stories weren’t doing minute-by-minute coverage, and it was covered as a normal news story, once in a week, and later in another week or so if more info came in, I doubt you’d see this level of increase. But instead it holds and captivated and centers the news. People aren’t just reported on, they are made /famous/.
posted by corb at 8:51 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


It's almost as if our news wants to avoid covering anything with actual content.. and a mass shooting provides a nice reprieve from their usual search for anything that avoids angering anyone powerful. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 9:28 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


If news stories weren’t doing minute-by-minute coverage, and it was covered as a normal news story, once in a week, and later in another week or so if more info came in, I doubt you’d see this level of increase.

The other spin on this is that treating this as a “normal news story” is a way of normalization. There’s no way that “dozens of children die and no one cares” wouldn’t be the other way to spin a deliberate downplay of routine massacres.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 11:34 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Honest question: how are fatal school bus crashes covered? They must happen regularly and some must have multiple deaths, but I'm too disengaged from the news cycle to have a sense of it.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:39 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Here's one example: Chattanooga school bus driver found guilty of 6 students' deaths in crash. He was convicted of six counts of criminally negligent homicide, 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault, and seven counts of assault, as well as reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and using his phone.

It's worth noting that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 2005 and 2014 there were 83 crashes that killed 106 people.

According to this Mother Jones project on US mass shootings, during the same time period there were 36 mass shootings that killed 299 people.

Plus, unlike gun violence, researchers are allowed to study school bus crashes.
posted by Lexica at 3:36 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]




WTF is "unlikely" supposed to mean? It reads like "hurf durf, check out da yout'." Who is a "likely" leader on gun reform, every adult in power who has declined to get involved?
posted by rhizome at 4:17 PM on March 7


Well, yeah, that non-teenage adults in power consistently do less-than-shit about this our just handwave and waffle and do nothing IS supposed to shock and surprise us. It doesn't, because we've grown numb, but it should. It’s unlikely because it’s fucking amazing that anyone is paying any attention to anyone on this. Somehow these kids have slipped through the defenses that sideline all gun control discussions into bullshit. That should't be hard to do , but it is.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on March 7


I know that saying mass shooters are mentally ill has been a fade by the right to divert attention away from gun control but as someone above already said, "it seems pretty unintuitive to suggest that the mass murderers who kill large groups of civilians are mentally healthy."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#Deadliest_shootings

Take the shootings in this link sorted by death count (the five most deadly were also among the top 10 most recent). Mental illness is a factor among the top four perpetrators. The fifth was as close to a legitimate ISIS attack as the US had so far.

Nikolas Cruz
* Cruz had behavior issues[52] since middle school, but a Washington Post writer said he was "entrenched in the process for getting students help rather than referring them to law enforcement"[53] and he was transferred between schools six times in three years to deal with these problems.
*In 2014, he was transferred to a school for children with emotional or learning disabilities, and returned to Stoneman Douglas High School two years later.[52]
*State investigators reported he had depression, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
*He had previously received mental health treatment, but had not received treatment in the year leading up to the shooting.

Stephen Paddock
*His doctor suspected he may have had bipolar disorder but Paddock had refused to discuss that possibility, he doctor told police. The doctor offered him antidepressants but Paddock would only accept a prescription for anxiety medication. Paddock was fearful of medication and often refused to take it, the doctor told investigators.
*family history of mental illness

Devin Patrick Kelley
*admitted to Peak Behavioral Health Services, a mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico in 2012 (5 years before the mass shooting)[39]

Omar Mateen
*In 2009, Mateen married his first wife, who left him after a few months; the couple's divorce became final in 2011. Following the nightclub attack, she said Mateen was "mentally unstable and mentally ill" and "obviously disturbed, deeply, and traumatized", was often physically abusive, and had a history of using steroids.

I realize this isn't a statistical analysis of mass shootings (e.g. the original reference to "99%" of mass shooters) but surely the top 4 killers in this category being mentally ill should be some kind of factor in the overall analysis in addition to "men who have some history of reported violence or violent ideations."
posted by laptolain at 9:17 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


"we persist instead in making them monsters, not pitiable, shrunken whiners who want to be famous without having to do anything to deserve our regard"

Yes. Making someone a monster gives them power. Part of the reason they do this is they feel powerless.

Maybe a bit of a derail, but an aspect of the media framing that irks me is the idea that a specific type of gun is a magical killing machine. Yes, some kill faster than others, but there are and will be plenty of ways to convert a gun to reload faster. It's not that hard to jury-rig a magazine or build a bump stock. You can kill yourself with a .22. Taking specific weapons or devices off the market is a bandaid for what is essentially a regulatory issue (well, really a toxic masculinity problem, but we can't outlaw young men).

I've seen the gun/car comparison thrown out by right wing media a number of times, and to me this is a framing that needs to be taken away from the gun nuts. Treating guns like cars is a sound place to start from a policy position. You want a firearm? You need to pass a test, carry a license, and have proof of insurance. Hunt for subsistence? You either get a tax break or a waiver. We have different levels of insurance for different models of cars - how about you only need liability for a small caliber single-shot target rifle, but you have to have comprehensive on anything made for killing, along with maybe a bigass bond for the public risk your "hobby" represents.

I mean, I'm fully in favor of "you don't get to have guns anymore without a damn good reason," but that is clearly not happening. Car-style insurance seems like a decent compromise, but the NRA machine has skewed the issue to the point that otherwise rational people can't talk about it in those terms.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:02 AM on March 8


A problem I see with "Some Asshole" is that we're not talking about "Some Asshole" for many of these attacks. We're talking about a form of terrorism that--like church bombings and lynchings--needs to be examined as part of a history of American terrorism against minority economic and political participation.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:59 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


One of the chief arguments against gun control laws is that they only affect law-abiding citizens. Aren't all mass shooters law-abiding citizens in the eyes of the pro-gun subculture, until they aren't?
posted by rhizome at 11:19 AM on March 8


Maybe a bit of a derail, but an aspect of the media framing that irks me is the idea that a specific type of gun is a magical killing machine.

An AR-15 is not a magical murder machine in roughly the same way a phillips screwdriver is not a magic philips screw undoing machine. It's a tool, for a job. In the case of the screwdriver it's undoing screws, in the case of the AR-15 it's murdering large amounts of people. Ban the fucker.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I realize this isn't a statistical analysis of mass shootings (e.g. the original reference to "99%" of mass shooters) but surely the top 4 killers in this category being mentally ill should be some kind of factor in the overall analysis in addition to "men who have some history of reported violence or violent ideations."

The statistical problem is that there are so few mass shooters that even if almost all were mentally ill, the odds a given mentally ill person is going to be a mass shooter is extremely low. It's one thing to notice that more presidents are left handed than in the general population, but a left-handed person isn't that much more likely to be president than average.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:08 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


The statistical problem is that there are so few mass shooters that even if almost all were mentally ill, the odds a given mentally ill person is going to be a mass shooter is extremely low.

I understand that you're only suggesting the most objective scientific reasoning but something about this just doesn't smell right. How many shooters with a clear history of mental illness have to pop up before we can say there's some kind of pattern here while also acknowledging there isn't a sample size worthy of true objective analysis?

I know common sense and gut feeling are the dark age equivalent of understanding a situation but should they really play zero role? We're not talking about the efficacy of vaccines here. I don't think most people would consider the frequent co-occurrence of mass shootings and mental illness purely a coincidence.
posted by laptolain at 3:16 PM on March 8


Even if we go all the way back to Durkheim and say that people who attempt "death by cop" or similar self-destruction through violence is a way to rationalize form of suicidal mental illness, that's still a very specific and limited diagnosis that wouldn't be served by the NRA's advocacy that neurotic pacifists like myself should be put on a watchlist having received treatment.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:28 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


FYI this is a study from 2015. The framing of this post is weird.

Here's the actual 2015 article published in the online open-source journal PLOS One. It used data from the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and it appears to have no outside funding.
posted by jonp72 at 6:28 PM on March 8




"Mentally ill people aren’t killers. Angry people are."


The most commonly used psychiatric diagnoses for aggressive, angry or violent behavior are Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Conduct Disorder (in children and adolescents), Psychotic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Antisocial, Borderline, Paranoid and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. This latter diagnosis is an impulse control disorder characterized by repeated "failure to resist aggressive impulses that result in serious assaultive acts or destruction of property." Of all the DSM-IV-TR diagnoses, this one comes closest to accurately describing the escalating explosions of violence we are witnessing today. It is a classic anger disorder. According to a recent study by sociologist Ronald Kessler at Harvard Medical School, this anger disorder is on the rise, and may be present in more than fifteen million Americans. And this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/200904/anger-disorder-what-it-is-and-what-we-can-do-about-it
posted by laptolain at 8:52 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


My link addresses that, yes. You didn't read it I see.
posted by eviemath at 3:39 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Believe it or not I actually did read it. The two articles are not incompatible. What they both agree on is that anger is something the psychological community is still trying to get a firm hold on. I don't think either of those articles are suggesting anger and mental illness have nothing to do with each other. Your link itself ends by saying "Uncontrolled anger has become our No. 1 mental health issue."

Can anyone really say with a straight face that anger has nothing to do with psychology and by direct extension mental health and mental illness? The only reason someone would deny that is to avoid sticking the broad "mentally ill" with the specific stigma of "potential mass shooter" (something your link also concedes). I can respect that attitude but it also seems ultimately short sighted.
posted by laptolain at 8:27 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem here is what do we mean by "mentally ill" or "mental health?" Unfortunately due to stigmas surrounding mental health care, we usually don't recognize problems until they become severely disruptive to one's life. We're not treating anger management as a problem on the same level as dietary cholesterol or carbohydrates, we're usually waiting until someone gets injured or hurt, the equivalent of a stroke or heart attack.

Even if a person is mentally ill, that doesn't necessarily imply diminished capacity. Jonesing for a cigarette is not necessarily a legal defense. Multiple states have ruled that even if one experiences extreme homophobic fear or disgust, that's not grounds for a provocation or self-defense claim. One can just walk away from the LGBTQ person. If you're angry, so what? Most of us with post-traumatic rage syndrome don't stockpile weapons and plan massacres. We stockpile meditation podcasts and plan walks in the park. These massacres are not spur-of-the-moment emotional outbursts, they're premeditated crimes.

On top of that, we can't ignore that "mental illness" is being pushed by an administration whose violence prevention roundtable yesterday was stacked with anti-media quackery. I suspect Pence would have a role in any intervention, and this is one area where he's worse than Trump. My bet is that there's a 10% chance we'll see pork for faith-based programming (Pence), and a 90% chance that Trump will just shoot his mouth off about crazy people do nothing, since that's most of his domestic policy so far.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:03 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


The only reason someone would deny that is to avoid sticking the broad "mentally ill" with the specific stigma of "potential mass shooter" (something your link also concedes).

As a person with mental illness, I don't think it's even remotely plausible to argue that many mass shooters aren't mentally ill. And as a person on the autism spectrum, I'd go even farther -- a disproportionately high number of the "high profile" mass shooters are, specifically, people on or near the autism spectrum. (I'm also extremely easy to anger. I'll be the first to admit that trying to get myself off a "do not sell" list would involve a lot of special pleading.)

Of course, there are other connections, all of them equally problematic for many people. Many of the mass shooters are or were isolated gamers and heavily internet users. Most of them are white. Pretty much all of them are male. Most of them seem to have a history of red flags. And, of course, all of them have access to guns.

There's a ton of intellectual dishonesty here, because I don't think that anyone wants to admit that the traits they share might fit the profile of a mass shooter. About 40% of Americans either own a gun or live in a household with one. Only about 20% of Americans suffer from any form of mental illness (defined extremely broadly, and including phobias, OCD, etc.). Severe mental illness has about a 4% prevalence. Given the prevalence of gun ownership, the odds that an individual with mental illness will become a mass shooter are probably equal to or greater than the odds that an individual with access to a gun will become a mass shooter, just because so many people have access to guns.

What frustrates me about the claim that mental illness has nothing to do with mass shootings is that the apparent high-mindedness of the claim frequently turns out to be far more limited. At best, it's a moralistic fallacy (it would be bad if this already-stigmatized thing turned out to be associated with mass shootings; therefore, it can't be associated with mass shootings). At worst, it's an exercise in finger-pointing and scapegoating: the problem isn't mental illness in general; the problem is only this one type of mental illness. (Saying that an anger disorder is mostly due to upbringing and not due to some sort of genetic problem doesn't make it any less of a mental illness -- PTSD is entirely situational, but it's definitely a mental illness.)

Towards the end of the Slate article, the author says that "we have failed to provide an appropriate diagnosis for out-of-control anger." I don't think the author realizes it, but she's not arguing against throwing people under the bus. She's arguing that the bus isn't driving over the right people.

So if you are mentally ill and citing that link, reconsider what you're doing. Because her message for you isn't a high-minded moral one. It's a reassuring pat on your back. "Don't worry," she's telling most neuroatypical people. "The problem isn't you."

Even as she does this, though, she's gleefully throwing a small number of people under the bus.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 11:58 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I just want to say that I also do not trust this administration or really any government entity to be judicious with a list of mentally ill people. Like you said, there needs to be way more research on the role that mental illness plays in mass shooters and how it manifests as this kind of all consuming anger.

I think we all know people (or are those people: I have diagnosed mental illness) who have what might be considered more "benign" or "personal" or "garden variety" mental illness that makes us deeply skeptical of some kind of MENTALLY ILL = SHOOTER nonsense. I know that our society would love nothing more to take a minority of sick people and make them the enemy. At the same time I don't want to see mental illness as legitimate factor in mass shootings to be ignored for political reasons. Calling a mass shooter mentally ill doesn't excuse their behavior or remove their agency in an attack. It's pretty clear they're choosing toxic environments to reinforce their beliefs. We need to embrace the nuance going on here even if the right wants to make nuance look weak. When the right screams "shooters are mentally ill" we're not doing ourselves any favors by just taking the opposite position and yelling back "shooters are not mentally ill."
posted by laptolain at 12:47 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


"Mentally ill" is a false category, much like saying that anyone who experiences something uncomfortable with their body or demonstrates early indicators of mortality is "sick." Just because the same clinic treats a broken bone and poison ivy doesn't mean that those two ailments share the same etiology. Trying to talk about homicidal rage in the same category as postpartum depression and cigarette addiction is a hopeless error.

Compounding that, the dominant folk-theory is that some form of "anger disorder" caused the event. I'm willing to consider "anger disorders" as a correlated risk factor (along with gender and ideological affiliations), but I have absolutely no faith that people engaged in this discussion really understand the kind multivariate complexity this would involve, so I'd rather not have that conversation at all on the lay level.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:16 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


When the right screams "shooters are mentally ill" we're not doing ourselves any favors by just taking the opposite position and yelling back "shooters are not mentally ill."

Given that we're talking about a political movement whose definition of mental illness includes my nail polish and my vote the last election, I think "your theories of mental illness are bullshit" is a perfectly valid response.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:33 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Just FYI I don't disagree with you but you should know that I struggled to think of a better word to use there than sick. Ultimately I used sick hoping it would be interpreted in the most charitable way given the context of the rest of the sentence but I guess not. Sick in that sentence was supposed to communicate the struggle between the individual and society to deal with mental illness in general, not sick as in a moral judgement or sick as in a cold.

So I took a risk in not carefully defining my terms and paid for it.

And I think there are plenty of people on Metafilter who hand-on-their-heart would say that voting for Trump makes their mental health questionable so I don't think that rhetoric one way or the other is particularly useful.
posted by laptolain at 2:02 PM on March 9


I didn't see a moral judgement in "sick" I just think it's a bad word to use in this discussion because it can mean everything from "I shouldn't have taken a second serving" to "I just moved into a hospice."
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:09 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


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