Things That Matter

What Makes a Mass Shooter? New Study Stresses the Need for Prevention

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?

credit: CNN.com

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 that took 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 to focus 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.

Federal Judge Breaks Her Silence After Her Son Was Murdered By Disgruntled Attorney

Things That Matter

Federal Judge Breaks Her Silence After Her Son Was Murdered By Disgruntled Attorney

Eyewitness News ABC7NY / YouTube

Federal Judge Esther Salas is preparing to bury her 20-year-old son. Her son was killed by a disgruntled disguised as a FedEx driver on his birthday weekend. Judge Salas’ husband was hospitalized after being shot multiple times. She is asking for better protection got federal judges and their families.

Judge Esther Salas is demanding better protection and privacy for federal judges.

The video opens with Judge Salas explaining the events that unfolded that day. The emotion grows as she talks about her son finally turning 20 and his excitement to be with his parents. She recalls her son saying that he just wanted to stay and talk to her where the doorbell rings.

Judge Salas remembers her son running up the stairs to answer the door, curious about who it could be. When the door opened, Judge Salas heard gunshots and someone screaming “no.” When she got to her family, she learned that someone dressed as a FedEx delivery person came to the door and opened fire. The son jumped in front of his dad to protect him and died from a bullet wound to the chest.

As a result of the killing, Judge Salas is asking for politicians to do something to protect federal judges. As it stands, the address and other personal information on federal judges are readily available online. Judge Salas wants a way for that information to be hidden from the public.

“At the moment there is nothing we can do to stop it, and that is unacceptable,” Judge Salas said in the video. “My son’s death cannot be in vain, which is why I am begging those in power to do something to help my brothers and sisters on the bench.”

She added: “My family has experienced a pain that no one should ever have to endure. And I am here asking everyone to help me ensure that no one ever has to experience this kind of pain. We may not be able to stop something like this from happening again, but we can make it hard for those who target us to track us down.”

Judge Salas’ video is a hard video to watch as her raw emotion breaks through.

It is devastating to have to bury a child. It is something no parent should have to do. For Judge Salas, she is burying a child that was taken from her in a senseless act of violence perpetrated by a self-proclaimed anti-feminist attorney.

People on social media are standing with the judge in asking for better data protection to save lives.

Data issues have long plagued the Internet and activists want to change that. For many, the issue is protecting data from falling into the wrong hands or for companies, like Facebook, to profit off of our data. For Judge Salas, it is a matter of life or death to protect her colleagues on the bench and their families.

READ: The Government Accountability Office States That ICE And The FBI Are Using DMV Data To Track Undocumented Immigrants

Twenty-Three Children Have Been Rescued From Kidnappers After Being Found In A House In Chiapas, Mexico

Things That Matter

Twenty-Three Children Have Been Rescued From Kidnappers After Being Found In A House In Chiapas, Mexico

Toya Sarno Jordan / Getty

The search for a two-year-old boy named Dylan Esaú Gómez Pérez, who went missing three weeks ago, has led to the rescue of 23 other abducted children. At the time of his kidnapping, Pérez had been with his mother in a market in Chiapas, Mexico. Surveillance video of the kidnapping showed Pérez being taken away from the market by a young girl. The video tipped off authorities to a broader scheme where children were being used to abduct other minors.

After Pérez’s disappearance, his mother and other family member began a desperate search to find him and bring him home.

Juana Pérez, the boy’s mother, traveled to Mexico City earlier this month as part of an effort to appeal to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to help find her son. Like her son, Juana speaks the Indigenous language Tzotzil. She works at the market where her son had been taken and sells produce there. Speaking with authorities investigating his case, she explained that it was customary for him to sometimes wander off to play. Kidnapping had previously never been an issue that she had heard of occurring at the market before.

In an interview with the National Palace in Mexico City, Juana said that her son was not amongst the children that had been found by authorities.

“None of the children (rescued) is my son,” Pérez said in an interview according to ABC11. “I haven’t heard anything about my son.” The outlet says Juana described her son as “a chubby, happy boy who market vendors nicknamed ‘Gordito’ and tearfully appealed for help in finding him.”

The search for Pérez continues but officials say that his kidnapping has led to the rescue of over twenty-three other abducted children.

In a statement issued by the Chiapas state prosecutors’ office, it was confirmed that the children were between the ages of 2 and 15 years old. They were found by officers in a home in the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Three infants between three and 20 months old, were also found during the raid which took place on Monday. According to the prosecutors’ office, the children “were forced through physical and psychological violence to sell handicrafts in the center of the city.” The statement added that the abducted minors showed signs of “malnutrition and precarious conditions.”

“According to the children, many of them were forced to go out on the streets to sell things, and moreover they were forced to return with a certain minimum amount of money for the right to get food and a place to sleep at the house,” state prosecutor Jorge Llaven told ABC11.
Prosecutors say the children were forced to sleep on sheets of cardboard laid out on a cement floor.

Three women have been arrested in the case and will likely face human trafficking and forced labor charges. The rescued children have been handed over to child welfare authorities while the search for Dylan Esaú Gómez Pérez continues.