The trend will be your friend if you are the NRA, Hollywood,or video game manufacturers trying to deflect blame for rising gun violence in America. Per both mass killing expert Alan Fox, there is no particular evidece suggesting we are in the grip of a rising wave of mass shootings. A Mother Jones team has put together their own database of mass shootings since 1980 (timeline) and their chart suggests a similar conclusion.
And for the factually oriented, this paper by criminologist Duwe from 2006 (hat tip to Jesse Walker of Reason) is fascinating. The media loves a narrative, which is why we read and talk about gun killings and exclude mass killings that used fire or bombs. Also, crimes involving strangers in public places are much more dramatic than banger-on-banger shoot-outs (e.g., the St. Valentine's Day massacre) or one monster wiping out the rest of his family, so they draw more coverage.
To be fair, the psychology of that is clear, but let me belabor the obvious: most of us have a pretty good idea whether we are involved with violent criminals or are in a potentially violent and abusive relationship so the idea of getting randomly gunned down in a movie theatre or a restaurant or having the kids shot in school is more personally problematic, and hence more "newsworthy".
Well - this background is interesting but I don't think actual facts will have much of a role to play in Obama's upcoming "conversation", in whch we are all supposed to show fresh thinking. Let me quote him from his press conference:
Over these past five days, a discussion has reemerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day. And it’s encouraging that people of all different backgrounds and beliefs and political persuasions have been willing to challenge some old assumptions and change longstanding positions.
I doubt whether Obama's final proposals will challenge any assumption he has held over the last twenty years. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, as an example of the fact-free analysis I anticipate from the emotionally based community, this Times guest piece is a laugh riot in which a French professor ruminates about the rising tide of massacres:
Adam Lanza was a young man. Jacob Roberts was a young man. James Holmes is a young man. Seung-Hui Cho was a young man. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were young men.
And a bit later:
Does the heroic young man still make sense today, or has his value already been depleted? ...
There is also the issue of race. Not all of the men I listed in the beginning of this piece are Caucasian. However, take a moment and imagine what the archetypical image of a mass murderer in the United States looks like. Is he white in your mind? This image can only be attributed to the truth of those patterns that have established themselves,
Duwe from 2006 touched on that point - the media does favor a certain narrative:
But as Table 1 shows, the heavily publicized typifying examples used by claimsmakers are hardly representative of mass murder. Indeed, compared to mass killings in general, the 56 cases used as typifying examples were more likely to involve larger body counts, stranger victims, public locations, assault weapon use, workplace violence, interracial victim-offender relationships, older, suicidal offenders, and slightly more likely to involve gun use and white offenders.
I don't want to leap to conclusions but it is possible that the NY Times and other big media are more comfortable with stories involving white shooters (normally the Times avoids reporting the race of an alleged criminal). The Mother Jones team provides an example of this liberal mindset in action as they describe their database of 62 incidents:
Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman.
Sixty-two incidents involving sixty-four killers (Columbine and Westside Middle School involved partners) are in the database. That means there are nineteen non-white male killers. And what is the racial breakdown? Apparently the authors know, and the answer may be available at the website but it is eluding me. They do have pictures of some of the killers, and I see an American Indian (Jeffrey Weise) and more Asians than one would expect from normal crime statistics.
Still, whites represent about two-thirds of the killers despite being more than two-thirds of the population, so some other ethnic groups are over-represented. Yet the authors are not making the breakdown easily available. Hmm...
Are these young men? More Mother Jones:
The average age of the killers was 35...
And where do the killings take place?
Half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 19, respectively); the other 31 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases.
Well, the French professor has a fascinating theory about a zero-sum world in which the empowerment of blacks and women has left youg white men dispossessed, enraged, and prove to violence. That may not jibe with the trendless nature of mass shootings, the white under-representation among the shooters or the generally declining crime rate over the last twenty years, but hey - she has a piece in the Times and I don't, so go figure.
EERIE: Aurora, Colorado is the site of the Columbine killings (strictly speaking, Littleton is close by), the movie theatre shooting of 2012 and the Chuck E. Cheese killings of 1993 (that is on the timeline but not the interactive map). The Chuck E Cheese incident was a workplace killing with four dead; the shooter is on death row and does not fit the racial profile favored by the Times contributor. But geez, Aurora is not even that big a town and it has 5% of all the mass shootings in America over the last thirty years.