Tuesday, February 5, 2013

We Don't Have a Mass Shooting Problem - 2

Last August, in the wake of the Aurora Colorado theater shooting, I posted part 1 of this. It relied on a news reporter from Boston.com.

Tonight's update relies on Megan McArdle at The Daily Beast.  Ms. McArdle interviews Northwestern University criminologist James Alan Fox, who has been studying mass shootings since about 1980.  Go RTWT, - as usual, I'll whet your appetite with a couple of quotes:
James Alan Fox: Mass murderers are extraordinarily ordinary.

Most mass killers kill people they know, with a clear-cut motive. They typically plan their crimes in advance, often weeks or months in advance. They are calm, deliberate and determined to get justice for what they perceive to be unfair treatment.

The idea that they suddenly snap actually makes little sense. They snap and just so happen to have 2 AK-47's and 2000 rounds of ammunition around for just such an occasion? Hardly.
Not lunatics who suddenly snap? They plan in advance for month?  Calm, deliberate, looking for justice?
Most of the time, the motive is to get even with those they hold responsible for their misfortunes. Usually people at work or at home, or sometimes a class of people (women, Jews, immigrants, whites, blacks, etc) . . . so the victims are chosen randomly, but not the type of victim, or the place to find them.
A crime like the Sandy Hook massacre is exceptionally rare.  But they're getting more common? 
If one examines the full range of cases--all shootings with at least four victims killed, the numbers have been trendless. Over the past 35 years, there has been an average of just under 20 incidents per year.

Think of it this way: the number of incidents and victims is relatively constant, but the population has been growing - so the number per capita is decreasing. 
Megan: So you have been saying that many of the most popular remedies for mass shootings won't work. They aren't all identifiably crazy before the shooting, so mental health screenings for gun buyers won't stop them. Neither will waiting periods, because they're long-term planners. And restricting certain scary guns (an "assault weapons ban") won't have much effect, because they'll just pick another gun.
Very perceptive, Megan!

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