With heavy hearts, America grieves the largest mass shooting it it’s history. Early Sunday morning, just after last call, a gunman burst into Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and shot at clubgoers with an automatic weapon and a handgun that were purchased legally. The night of celebration turned into a living nightmare.
At first, clubgoers thought the shot noises were part of the electronic music. After the DJ turned down the music, it became clear they were at the center of a mass shooting.
Omar Matteen, 29, opened fire driving people into the streets, bathrooms and corners of the gay bar; one woman even hid under a pile of dead bodies. The shooting highlights the increasingly horrifying epidemic of mass shootings in this country.
Pulse promotes itself as “more than just a gay bar.” It was founded by Barbara Poma as a tribute to her brother who died of AIDS. The institution considers itself a safe haven for LGBT and provides services beyond partying.
Saturday night was called “Latin Night,” but there is no information on whether this was a factor in the shooter’s motivation, yet. On a recent trip to Miami, Matteen grew furious when he saw two men kissing in a park.
President Obama gave a somber address to the country Sunday, “We’re still looking at all the motivations of the killer. But it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, fait or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or a movie theater or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
After yet another school shooting in Santa Clarita, California, the conversation about gun violence has reached new and troubling heights. According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks every mass shooting in the country, 2019 may be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one shooting a day. As of November 17, there have been 369 mass shootings in the U.S. We all know that there are 365 (well, sometimes 366) calendar days in a year—so when you do the math, you’re quick to realize that 2019 has seen a serious excess of senseless tragedy…and we still have six weeks left.
The issue of gun violence is complicated by misguided political and financial interests, but the data behind mass shootings is undeniably clear—it is data, after all. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as “any incident in which four people are shot, including the shooter.” The FBI defines mass murders as “incidents in which at least four people are killed.” While the FBI does not have a formal definition for mass shootings, the Gun Violence Archive investigates both, asserting that of the above mentioned 369 mass shootings, 28 were mass murders.
In total, there have been 34,365 deaths and 25,929 injuries as a result of gun violence in 2019, whether from mass shootings, homicides, suicides, or accidents. So, who is committing these crimes?
Of course, the answer is varied, complex, and incredibly nuanced. But in light of the recent tragedy in California, our attention is once again drawn to one group within the broad population of U.S. gun users: mass shooters. What leads someone to carry out these large-scale acts of violence? And what do mass shooters have in common with each other?
On November 19, a study funded by the Department of Justice—the largest study of mass shooters ever funded by the U.S. government—was released, and it responds directly to these questions. A dataset that stretches back to 1966 (beginning with the University of Texas shooting of that year, chosen by researchers for the massive media attention it received), the study tracks the pattern of large-scale shootings over the course of 53 years, ultimately concluding that mass shooters share four prominent characteristics: childhood trauma, a personal crisis, sources that validate their aggressive feelings, and access to a firearm.
The study was conducted by the Violence Project, a nonpartisan organization that “aims to reduce violence in society and improve related policy and practice through research and analysis.” With a sharp focus on the life histories of more than 171 mass shooters, the study serves as the largest, most comprehensive database of its kind, and it exposes a lot about the mass shooter archetype.
In addition to revealing that 20% of the 167 incidents have occurred in the past five years, the study reveals that shooters are increasingly motivated by a racial, religious, or misogynist impetus—especially those who committed their crimes in that same time frame.
credit: Los Angeles Times
This pattern is best demonstrated by the following metrics: Of the 75 mass shootings thattook place between 1966 and 2000, 9% were motivated by racism, 1% by religious hatred, and 7% by sexism and misogyny. Of the 32 mass shootings that have unfolded since 2015, 18% were motivated by racism, 15% by religious hatred, and 21% by misogyny—a jump in numbers that exceeds 200% across the board.
While acknowledging mass shooters’ tendency to target populations that they are prejudiced against, the research team also drew attention to the fact that nearly all mass shooters seemed to be in a state of personal crisis in the time leading up to the actual shooting. This pattern, according to the researchers, demonstrates opportunities for prevention that are all too often missed.
Similarly, the study found that nearly 70% of shooters exhibited suicidal motivations before (or during) the shooting—a finding that the researchers hope will directly influence public policy. “We know a lot more about suicide prevention than we do about this issue, and we know what works — things like limiting access to weapons, directly asking the question, connecting people with outside resources, not talking about it in the news,” Dr. Jillian Peterson, co-founder of the Violence Project, told VICE. “This shows us that there are opportunities for intervention—this doesn’t just happen out of the blue.”
Family history, life circumstances, and mental health aside, mass shootings would not be possible without the use of a gun. Roughly half of the perpetrators in the database purchased their weapons legally, while 13% obtained their weapons by theft. Over the last five years, the study notes an increase in mass shooters’ use of assault rifles, which correlates with the increased deadliness of shootings during that period.
Beyond a desire for tighter firearm regulation, the Violence Project aims tofocus on prevention: addressing the patterns surrounding gun violence in order to end it before it begins. This extensive database is definitely a step in the right direction.
School staff and students all across the nation undergo preparedness training for mass shootings. These are school shooting drills (just the same as fire drills and earthquake drills) that are now part of the new normals due to the increase in school shootings. However, an exercise can only prepare you so much. There’s no way to truly prepare yourself for a real-life shooting until you’re confronted with one. That’s what happened at an Oregon high school that, fortunately, was spared a mass shooting.
A football coach, who also works as security for a high school in Oregon, came face-to-face with a student holding a shotgun. New footage shows that the coach prevented a shooting by dealing with the student with kindness instead of violence.
Back in May, 19-year-old Angel Granados-Diaz took a shotgun to Parkrose High School in Portland, Oregon. He allegedly told police that he didn’t take the gun to shoot his classmates but instead to kill himself.
Keanon Lowe, head football and track coach, was in the class with Granados-Diaz. Newly released footage shows that Lowe didn’t tackle the student in order to disarm him, as early reports indicated. He instead embraced him, took him out of the class, while another man gently took the shotgun away from Granados-Diaz.
The video footage shows the coach calmy hugging the teen and deescalating the situation by showing him respect and kindness.
Granados-Diaz is currently on probation but is getting mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Lowe recalled the situation to KATU2 News and said the confrontation with Granados-Diaz happened pretty quickly, and he had to assess the situation as best as he could.
“Pretty crazy situation,” Lowe told KATU2. “In a fraction of a second, I analyzed everything really fast, saw the look in his face, looked at his eyes, looked at the gun, I realized it was a real gun and then my instincts just took over. Then it was just me and that student,” he added. “It was a real emotional time. It was emotional for him, it was emotional for me.”
Lowe said that Granados-Diaz surrendered to him, which is when another man was able to take the shotgun away.
“I let him know that I was there for him. I told him I was there to save him. I was there for a reason, and this is a life worth living,” Lowe said.
We assume the school didn’t want to show the difference in tactics, perhaps to show that confronting an armed student in such a manner could be dangerous. However, the school said they didn’t want the footage released to protect the privacy of the students.
“We learned last night that the security video footage of the May 17th incident at Parkrose High School was released by the district attorney’s office to KOIN news,” Parkrose Superintendent Michael Lopes-Serrao wrote on Twitter. “It is important to know that Parkrose School District denied this request from KOIN for the public record this past week. We denied this request because we believe the release of the video is a violation of student rights through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In addition, the release of the video has a significant impact on the students, staff, and families of Parkrose High School. This was a traumatic event for our students, staff, and community.”
Several news outlets were able to obtain and show the footage because videos confiscated by police become public records. The footage also gives people the awareness that there are positive ways to prevent school shootings without anyone getting hurt. What’s the alternative? We saw how a police officer that was at the Parkland High School in Florida ran away from the school shooter instead of trying to stop it. His cowardness costed the lives of 17 students and school workers. Lowe is a perfect example that prevention with compassion is possible.