Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (6)

Are White Men Disproportionally Likely to be Mass Shooters?

The New York Times published an article titled “Mass Shooters Are All Different. Except for One Thing: Most Are Men.”  The leading paragraphs are as follows (emphasis added).

As convenient as it would be, there is no one-size-fits-all profile of who carries out mass shootings in the United States.

About the only thing almost all of them have in common is that they are men.

But those men come from varying backgrounds, with different mental health diagnoses and criminal histories. Examining past New York Times coverage of mass shootings reveals some shared tendencies of the gunmen, including the fact that they are most commonly white, but such traits also describe thousands of law-abiding Americans who don’t become murderous.

The Chicago Tribune recently published a column that pointedly singled out white men for this sin.

As the toll from mass shootings this year already approaches the total for all of last year, more people are openly asking a question that has lurked mostly in the shadows: Why are the shooters so often white men?

Taken at face value these articles appear to be an obvious indictment of “white male toxicity.”  However, in reality they are open windows into the ignorance that saturates our supposedly elite media.

Let’s start by adding up all of the mass shooter numbers by race for the post-leading figure, resulting in a total of 113.  I have divided this total onto each racial category and expressed the result as a percent.  Next, I have plotted the percent by race from the most recent Census results and plotted this in the same figure, as shown below.

Mass-vs-Race-Pop

What we find is that there are the most white mass shooters because they are the largest race group in the United States.  In general the percentage of mass shooters tracks the population percentage.  Interestingly Latinos are less likely to be mass shooters.

The fact that our most elite journalists were apparently unable to understand this obvious and simple fact speaks poorly of their education and/or intelligence.  Or, they do know better and this result is an accurate measure of the intellectual contempt that they have for their readers.

So, no, there is no reason to consider white men to be disproportionally likely to be mass shooters.

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Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (5)

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Video screenshots from the Yahoo News story “Beto O’Rourke says Trump ‘is in large part to blame’ for El Paso shooting”

Is President Trump Responsible for Recent Mass Shootings?

The Democrat Party has decided to blame President Trump for the recent El Paso mass shooting, with Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke as their primary spokesman.  Their “case” against the President is that the manifesto allegedly published by the shooter uses words that have also been used by the President.  In particular the word “invasion” as applied to mass illegal immigration at our southern border.

You don’t need to dig far to find manifesto text that counters this thin reed of logic.  In particular, this insane, evil person specifically rejected the idea that his deeds were tied to President Trump.  Note also that the shooter also disavows potential blame of “certain presidential candidates” for his actions, which can only refer at this point to Democrat candidates.

Crusius ended the manifesto by saying he expected to be killed in the attack he would allegedly carry out on Saturday. As it turned out, the shooter was not, and he is now behind bars, charged with killing 22 people and wounding 26 others. He said his actions would be misunderstood as being tied to Trump.

“My ideology has not changed for several years,” Crusius wrote. “My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I [am] putting this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news. Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.”

That was the only time Trump appeared in the manifesto, and it appears clear that Crusius borrowed his “fake news” characterization of the news media from the president. But that is not what Trump’s critics have charged. They have charged that Trump inspired Crusius to kill. They have charged it so often in the last few days that it has hardened into a general perception that Crusius was inspired by the president. But read the manifesto. It’s just not there.

*The word “invasion” has been used in connection with illegal immigration since long before the president ran for office. In the 1990s, for example, the state of California unsuccessfully sued the federal government, claiming the government did not protect states from an “invasion” of illegal immigrants. In 2010, the state of Arizona also unsuccessfully challenged the federal government over a similar “invasion.” The word was also used, well before Trump, in general commentary, usually by those who sought to restrict immigration levels into the United States. And more generally, too: Bobby Jindal, the son of immigrants and governor of Louisiana who ended his 2016 presidential campaign with a bitter attack on Trump, used to say that “immigration without assimilation is invasion.”

Why would the vile, evil killer mention Democrat candidates in his comments?  Probably because he uses the same eco-dystopian future ideas as numerous of them.

After all, these misanthropic ideas, this green miserabilism, this anti-modern guff about humanity being a plague on poor Mother Earth, is a central feature of the El Paso killer’s manifesto. And if Trump can be held responsible for the shootings on the basis that the manifesto echoes his Mexican-bashing, why shouldn’t greens, who pollute public debate with the kind of anti-humanist ideology that clearly moved and enraged the El Paso murderer, shoulder some responsibility, too?  …

… In his alleged manifesto, the killer, alongside his racist rants about Hispanic people and the ‘replacement’ of whites, attacks modern society for being eco-unfriendly. Westerners’ lifestyles are ‘destroying the environment’ and ‘creating a massive burden for future generations’, he says. He seems obsessed with the core element of green thinking – the idea that mankind is overusing limited natural resources. We are ‘shamelessly overharvesting resources’, apparently.

As with green ideology in general, there is a strong streak of anti-humanism in his eco-obsessions. He attacks ‘urban sprawl’ – also known as human habitation – and the way it ‘destroys millions of acres of land’. As for ‘consumer culture’ with its production of ‘thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste’ – he slams that as another part of humankind’s ‘decimation of our environment’. The solution? Surprise, surprise: population control. Echoing the numerous eco-Malthusians who have spent decades calling for a restrictions on human natality in order to save the planet, he says we need to ‘decrease the number of people in America using resources’.   …

… somehow in recent years, this backward, anti-modern obsession with cleansing nature of foul mankind’s uncaring, destructive behaviour has morphed into a supposedly progressive, leftish outlook. And it is now utterly mainstream, being promoted by virtually every public and political institution.

Also, were the Democrats to apply their supposed logic consistently then they would have to blame Elizabeth Warren for the Dayton Ohio mass shooting.  In fact, the case is much stronger.  Here’s what the Dayton shooter allegedly had to say.

Heavy.com got access to the shooter’s social media. Contrary to the media narrative currently boiling over, this shooter was not a Trump fan. In fact, he hated Trump, hated Republicans, was an avowed leftist, used antifa style language in his posts, and loved Elizabeth Warren. …

He used language often used by Antifa, exclaiming that he wants to “kill every fascist.” He also liked and commented on posts expressing support for the group.

“#2016ElectionIn3Words This is bad,” he wrote on Nov. 8, 2016. “You can’t kill 50+ people and injure 600(!) In 10 minutes with cigarettes my dude,” he wrote in 2017. In response to a Buzzfeed story that read, “Virginia has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the “Unite the Right” rally anniversary in Charlottesville this weekend,” he wrote: “Kill every fascist.

Betts was a politically active socialist who supported Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

On the Twitter page, Connor Betts indicated he’d vote for Elizabeth Warren for president but not Kamala Harris, responding to a person’s tweet suggesting they be co-presidents. “Nahh, but only cuz Harris is a cop – Warren I’d happily vote for,” he wrote.

I don’t recall a single Democrat or MSM source drawing attention to this information in an accusatory manner with regard to Mrs. Warren.

Finally, recall from this previous post that the significant increase in mass shootings began and continued under President Obama.  What’s going on now is just the continuation of a process rather than something new under the Trump administration.  Were it my goal to “blame” President Obama for the significant increase in mass shootings that occurred on his watch I could dig up many quotes in support.  But that isn’t my goal. Yes, President Obama said many things that I believe to have coarsened our political dialogue and caused social turmoil.  However, I don’t blame him for the mass shootings that occurred during his Presidency, nor should anyone else.

mass-shooting-by-pres

If you blame President Trump but bestow innocence upon President Obama and the current crop of Democrat candidates then you are engaging in divisive politics.

But we should rather be looking at ourselves, at the culture and values that we have embraced for answers, not convenient scape-goats be they be Democrat or Republican presidents or candidates.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (4)

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The Lott study results (right) contradict the Lankford results…why?

Does the United States Have the Most Mass Shootings (2)?

Lankford’s Credibility Challenged

Given the publicity given to the Lankford study it was certain that attempts to review and replicate the results would be made.  However, from the beginning of this coverage in 2016 to well into 2019 Dr. Lankford absolutely refused to release the data upon which his conclusions rested or to engage in substantive dialogue with other researchers.  Therefore, anyone attempting to assess his results was completely on their own.  And, given Lankford’s striking and highly publicized results, John R. Lott, Jr., President of the Crime Prevention Research Center took on the challenge.

Given the previously discussed uncertainty about terms and definitions combined with Lankford’s refusal to share his definition or data, the Lott study used a widely accepted definition of “mass shooting.”  The following definition was used by the Congressional Research Service in their 2015 study titled “Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013,” which is similar to that used by Mother Jones.

… a “mass shooting” could be defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and in one or more locations relatively near one another.

Using this definition and a comprehensive review of foreign news sources (including non-English language sources), the Lott study came to a contradictory conclusion, that being (emphasis added):

Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years.

Coding these events sometimes involves subjectivity. But even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, his 31 percent estimate of the US’s share of world mass public shooters is cut by over 95 percent. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.

Lankford Finally Responds

After almost three years of stonewalling by this public academic, Lankford finally respond to his critics and released his data in March of 2019.  He did so by publishing a paper titled “Confirmation That the United States Has Six Times Its Global Share of Public Mass Shooters, Courtesy of Lott and Moody’s Data.”  Though Lankford spun this paper as a devastating rebuttal of Lott’s work, in reality it amounted to an admission of professional malpractice (if not worse).

It turns out that Lankford had, without disclosure, limited his study to include only mass shooters who “acted alone.”  As was discussed in the previous post, the only definition that assumes a single perpetrator is that for an “active shooter,” and even there the FBI had extended it to include multiple shooters.  Even more devastating to Lankford’s position is the fact that he led his original paper using the 1999 Columbine attack which had two shooters.

One is also left to wonder why, if Lankford had such an easily available “devastating” riposte to Lott’s work, he waited so ling to respond.  The most likely answer is that Lankford had pulled a definitional trick in order to place the United States in a bad light.  For, by supposedly limiting (though he was not consistent, see above Columbine example) his study to lone active shooters Lankford was able to manufacture a statistic that appeared to show the United States to be a “mass shooter” negative outlier.

In order to better appreciate the gravity of this apparent deception, ask yourself if you would rather go to a nation that had 1.57 mass shooter attacks per 100,000 people (Northern Mariana Islands) or 0.015 (the United States)?  Would you really care if you were murdered in an event with only one person doing the mass shooting?  Of course not!

It is for this reason that Lankford most likely refused to explain his definitions, share details of his methodology or publish his data for almost three years.  Only when the pressure to explain himself became overwhelming did he finally come clean; and then in a manner that attempted to hide his malpractice behind a fog of accusations.

Lankford’s Open Admission of Bias

Lankford in his original paper made it absolutely clear that he was a deeply biased source.  Following is the first paragraph from his original paper (emphasis added, see end of post for information on H. Rap Brown).

Are public mass shooters predominantly an American problem? For years, people have wondered whether the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence. Political activist H. Rap Brown once claimed that “Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie” (Lehman, 2014). Similarly, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Richard Hofstadter (1970b) concluded that the most notable thing “about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast with our pretensions to singular national virtue” (p. 7). Although United States history includes the killing of indigenous people, a revolutionary war, a civil war, many foreign wars, slavery, race riots, domestic terrorism, and high rates of homicide, perhaps no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings.

This appears to be the work of a man on a mission to denigrate and discredit the United States.  I have read hundreds of research papers in my lifetime.  No researcher who desired to maintain a posture of disinterested inquiry would ever start a paper in this manner.  However, if your goal were to catch the eye of like-minded politicians and media organizations then this is an excellent opening paragraph.

Thus, this situation appears to be a glaring example of how a supposedly disinterested academic can distort research to support a predetermined outcome due to their personal bias.



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H. Rap Brown: “I say violence is necessary.  It is as American as cherry pie.”

H. Rap Brown:

Rejecting the prosecution’s call for a death sentence, a jury sentenced the former ’60s radical known as H. Rap Brown to life in prison for killing a sheriff’s deputy in a shootout two years ago.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding Wednesday to spare the life of the Muslim cleric now called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He will not have a chance at parole.

So, a supposedly disinterested, public spirited criminology professor quoted a convicted murderer and Black Panther Party member as a credible source on the nature of violence in the United States.  This would be amazing had I not lived through the past ten or so years.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (3)

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The Lankford study … is it credible?

Does the United States Have the Most Mass Shootings (1)?

In the previous post I confirmed that the incidents and associated death toll of mass shootings in the United States is on a precipitous increase.  Since we live here this turn of events is at top of mind (e.g., note the recent Times Square panic).  And, since most of our news is about the United States it’s not unreasonable to fear that there is something uniquely wrong here, resulting in a higher incidence of mass shootings than occur elsewhere in the world.

So, when an academic study by Adan Lankford  (University of Alabama) was published showing that the United States is indeed unique (in a bad way), many people’s emotional response was confirmation of their worst fears.  And, since that study was cited by major media organizations and politicians the presumed credibility of these results was confirmed.

But there was something strange about this study.  It turned out that Dr. Lankford’s paper was vague/inconsistent about key issues like definitions and methodology.  He also refused to release the data set upon which his conclusions were based.  This behavior is extremely odd for an academic who speaks on key public policy issues.  The generally expected behavior is clarity on definitions and methodology and complete transparency on the data set.  In this way other researchers have the opportunity to replicate or challenge the findings.

For example, the New York Times story based on the Lankford paper consistently refers to “mass shootings” as the topic under study.  Lankford’s paper uses multiple terms interchangeably, such as “mass shooters,” “rampage shooters” and “active shooters.”  The Lankford paper’s title uses the term “Mass Shooters.”  The New York Times article uses the term “mass shooting” twenty-four times but never mentions “active shooter.”

The definition of a “mass shooting” is uncertain and highly variable as discussed by the Washington Post.

But “mass shooting” is a term without a universally-accepted definition, which complicates news coverage of events such as Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas.  …

The FBI does not officially define “mass shooting” and does not use the term in Uniform Crime Report records. In the 1980s, the FBI established a definition for “mass murder” as “four or more victims slain, in one event, in one location,” and the offender is not included in the victim count if the shooter committed suicide or was killed in a justifiable homicide, according to a Congressional Research Service report detailing the definitions.

After the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., Congress defined “mass killings” to mean “three or more killings in a single incident.” Some media outlets and researchers still use the four-fatality definition, and have adopted the CRS definitions of “mass shooting” and “mass public shooting.” Other researchers include injuries in the victim count. Some researchers include acts of terrorism, drug deals gone wrong or gang conflict in their research. Others don’t.

Some media reports, such as those of our Wonkblog colleagues, and advocates use a broader definition used by the Mass Shooting Tracker maintained via Reddit, an online forum. In this case, mass shootings are incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. By this count, the San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year. (In comparison, CRS counted 317 mass shooting incidents from 1999 to 2013.)

Note that none of these definitions place a limit on the number of shooters.  And, the San Bernardino incident in which there were two shooters is explicitly included under any definition of a “mass shooting.”  This distinction is, as we will see, central to assessment of Lankford’s results.

Well into the Lankford paper a definition for the data utilized is provided (emphasis added):

Data for this study were drawn first from the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) 2012 Active Shooter report. This report employs the Department of Homeland Security’s definition of “active shooter”: “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area” (Kelly 2012, p. 1). More commonly, these offenders are referred to as rampage shooters or public mass shooters. According to the formal definition, their attacks must have (a) involved a firearm, (b) appeared to have struck random strangers or bystanders and not only specific targets, and (c) not occurred solely in domestic settings or have been primarily gang-related, drive-by shootings, hostage-taking incidents, or robberies (Kelly, 2012). For this study, attackers who struck outdoors were Public Mass Shooters and Firearms included; attackers who committed sponsored acts of genocide or terrorism were not. This is consistent with the criteria employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its 2014 active shooter report (Blair & Schweit, 2014).

It turns out that even the FBI acknowledges that the definition of an “active shooter” is uncertain and open to interpretation (emphasis added).

The agreed-upon definition of an active shooter by U.S. government agencies … is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms. For purposes of its study, the FBI extended this definition to include individuals, because some incidents involved two or more shooters. Though the federal definition includes the word “confined,” the FBI excluded this word in its study, as the term confined could omit incidents that occurred outside a building. Whether inside or out, these incidents still posed a threat to both law enforcement and the citizens they seek to protect.

So, what we have is a confused situation in which terms with varying definitions are used interchangeably by the paper’s author (Lankford), with the term “mass shooting” used in the paper’s title and “mass shooting” used exclusively by the New York Times in its article based on this paper.

The consequences of this confusion and the author’s complete refusal to answer questions or simply share his data set significantly complicated the process of review and replication that normally occurs for academic research results.

This assessment continues with the next post.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (2)

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Here’s an example of the significant differences between three sources on mass shootings: (1) Mass Shooting Tracker, (2) Mother Jones and (3) the FBI.

Is the Occurrence of Mass Shootings Increasing?

This question seems ridiculous given that last Saturday the United States experienced two mass shootings within a 14-hour period.  Certainly this was a shocking turn of events that has left us all reeling.  But it turns out that this question is more difficult to answer than our emotions would suggest.

The header figure for this post was chosen to make this point.  It shows data on mass shootings in the United States from three information sources, those being: (1) Mass Shooting Tracker, (2) Mother Jones and (3) the FBI.  Note that for the year 2013 (the only year for which data is available from all three sources) the number of mass shooting events are 363, 5 and 17!  The number of deaths and injuries all varies widely across these three sources.  Also, no trend in number of events, deaths or injuries is apparent in any of these sources.

The primary reasons for this huge variation across sources are determined by the methodology and definitions used.  For example, the Mass Shooting Tracker uses a crowd source (use of information contributed by the general public, often via the Internet and without compensation) methodology and a broad definition for mass shootings.  Mother Jones and the FBI use much narrower definitions (but not identical) for mass shooting and the data is collected and validated by that organization.  While there are cases for which crowd sourced data is credible, the uncontrolled nature of this methodology isn’t a good match for mass shootings.

Since Mother Jones* has the longest time span (1982 to 2019), a consistent definition and centrally managed methodology I will focus on their data.  There are many ways to display data of this type.  The following figure shows two key aspects of the mass shooting data, those being number of events and number of deaths per year.

mass shootings 1982-2016

Mother Jones data through June 2016: Each rectangle is an individual mass shooting event and the height of each rectangle is the number of deaths for that event.

It’s easier to identify trends if we plot the number of annual events and number of deaths separately, as shown in the following two figures.  For each figure I have included the fifth-order polynomial best (least squares) fit curve to highlight the underlying data trend (dashed line).

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Mother Jones data: 1982 – 2018

The trend line clearly shows the number of mass shooting events began to rise significantly starting approximately in 2009.  Note that this rising trend continues through the last full year of 2018.

mass shooting deaths

Mother Jones data: 1982 – 2018

The trend line clearly shows the number of mass shooting deaths began to rise significantly starting approximately in 2007.  Note that this rising trend continues through the last full year of 2018.

These results indicate that our perception of significantly increased events and deaths due to mass shootings is backed up by the available data.  Of course the Mother Jones data set isn’t perfect (nor is any other).  However I’m satisfied that it is sufficient to accurately identify the trends associated with this tragic situation.


* Comment on credibility criteria

Some readers may wonder why I’m using mass shooting data from a very Progressive organization.  After all, a primary theme of this blog is severe criticism of Progressivism. There’s no doubt that I strongly disagree with Mother Jones on interpretation of events and policy positions.  However, all this doesn’t necessarily mean that Mother Jones’ mass shooting data itself is tainted.  In fact, based on their methodology, definitions and transparency I’m comfortable using their data.

Mother Jones has clearly communicated their definitions and methodology for identifying and cataloguing mass shooting events.  Of absolute critical importance, they are also completely transparent with respect to the results.  I or anyone else can access their entire data set and evaluate it for consistency, accuracy and completeness.  This implies they are making a good faith effort to generate useful information in this critical area.

Finally, I note that if anything the Mother Jones data is conservative even when compared to the FBI data (see the above figure).  Were they attempting to bias their data to accentuate the number of mass shootings I very much doubt that this result would have occurred.

Note that the credibility of any data source will be severely compromised if these conditions are not met.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (1)

photos involving the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis and a candlelight vigil beginning at Lawyer's Mall at the State House, followed by a march to City Dock for a service

Opening Thoughts

It’s exceedingly difficult to separate our emotional responses from meditations on mass shootings.  No person capable of humane response can avoid strong feelings of revulsion, helplessness, fury, sorrow and disorientation, among many others.  We should not attempt to exclude these valid and unavoidable emotional responses.

However, powerful emotions can become destructive if they are allowed to blind us from a comprehensive, honest and balanced understanding of these events.  They can drive us into fits of fury that appear to validate a search for villains or demand solutions that may bear no relationship to the real causes.  They can also prevent us from placing these terrible events into a coherent perspective.

For these reasons it’s necessary to separate our emotions from the topic.  Of course doing so completely is impossible.  Nevertheless I’m going to make the attempt, perhaps enabling us all to consider this tragic situation with new information and insights.