What mass shooters have in common, and what they don’t
Lisa Chiu in Washington
Just hours after another mass shooting took place in the United States, right-wing pundits and politicians began speaking of a rising trend of transgender shooters.
Nashville police said Audrey Hale, who shot and killed three school children and three adults on March 27, identified as a transgender man who used he/him pronouns on a social media account. One of Hale’s friends said Hale texted her minutes before the shooting saying that his text was a suicide note. The friend said that Hale had been suicidal in the past but had no idea what was to take place.
Many conservatives have taken to social media attempting to draw correlations between mass shootings and the trans community.
For example Podcaster Benny Johnson tweeted:
Johnson was referencing three shootings that took place in 2022, 2019 and 2018.
In November 2022, Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five and injured 25 at a Colorado Spring LGBTQ nightclub. Aldrich identifies as non-binary, his lawyers said, however some critics say Aldrich used the non-binary identification to unsuccessfully avoid hate crime charges. Some who knew Aldrich said Aldrich made hateful remarks about the LGBTQ community, and police testimony said they found rainbow-colored shooting targets at his home.
In 2019 in Denver, Devon Erickson and Alec McKinney shot eight students and killed one at the charter school they attended. McKinney, who was 16 years old when he took part in the shooting, asked to be referred to as male and said he planned to target two people who bullied him for his gender identity. McKinney also said he heard voices and suffered from homicidal and suicidal thoughts and refused to take medication.
In 2018 Snochia Moseley shot six co-workers at a Rite Aid warehouse in Aberdeen, Maryland. The Washigton Post reported that Moseley had been struggling with mental illness and struggled with her sexual identity.
Many Twitter users were quick to point out that the three examples actually show that trans shooters are far less likely to commit mass shootings than cisgender shooters.
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, there were 1,529 total mass shootings in 2018, 2018, 2022, and so far in 2023. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter. Based on that total, four transgender shooters would be 0.3 percent of the mass shooters, compared to 99.7 percent who are cisgender.
Some on the right have also pointed to the Trans Day of Vengeance planned for April 1 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. as a sign of increased violence among trans people. However event organizer Noah Buchanan of the Trans Radical Activist Network has said that the group does not encourage violence.
There is sound analysis about trends among mass shooters. Researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densley examined 172 mass shooters from 1966-2020, collecting more than 100 pieces of information on each shooters.
Here’s what they found were the most common among mass shooters, according to their work at the Violence Project:
* The most common weapon used to commit mass shootings is a handgun, 80 percent of all mass shooters used at least one handgun during their crime.
* A semiautomatic assault weapon is the second most used weapon, with 28 percent of shooters using them. 73 percent of shooters who used a semiautomatic assault weapon also used a handgun at the scene.
* 46.5 percent of mass shooters acquired all of their known guns legally through a licensed dealer, unregulated private sale, or other legal means.
* 12 percent of shooters stole or borrowed at least one of their guns.
* 32 percent of guns used in mass shootings have unknown origins.
RELATIONSHIP TO LOCATION:
* More than 60 percent of shooters knew at least some of their victims.
* Perpetrators in workplaces, houses of worship, and schools and colleges tended to be current or former students and insiders known to the victims. The most common site for these locations is former workplaces of perpetrators and most shooters had been fired.
* Almost all the mass shooters at restaurants, bars, and retail establishments were strangers to those businesses.
MOTIVATIONS AND BACKGROUND HISTORY:
* In 30 percent of shooters, the underlying reason that motivated them to carry out the mass shooting was psychosis, a mental condition that makes it difficult for a person to recognize what is real and what isn’t, according to the Violence Project. In 23 percent of shooters, the reason was employment troubles. In 20 percent, that reason was an interpersonal conflict defined as non-domestic conflict with coworkers, friends or family.
* 69 percent of mass shooters had a history of mental health concerns. This is higher than the 50% of people in the general population who will satisfy criteria for a mental illness at some point in their lives, according to the Violence Project.
* Before they carried out their crimes, more than 80 percent of mass shooters displayed signs of crises, including a marked change in behavior noticeable to others. This includes exaggerated emotional responses, an increased interest in violence, and signs of hopelessness.
* 65 percent of mass shooters had a criminal record, while 63 percent had a history of violence.
* 51 percent of mass shooters had employment troubles.
* 42 percent of mass shooters had a history of trauma.
* 36 percent of mass shooters had a history of domestic abuse.
RACE, GENDER, EDUCATION:
* White people account for 52% of all mass shooters.
* Of the 172 mass shooters studied, only four were women. In two cases, the women acted in partnership with a man.
* 31 percent mass shooters have a high school education or lower, 27 percent have some experience at college or a trade school, 7 percent have a college Bachelor’s degree, and 6 percent have a graduate school degree. The education status for 28 percent of shooters is not known.