There’s only one surefire answer to the problem of mass shootings
On Jan. 1, 2007, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history was the 1991 massacre of 23 people at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Tex. George Hennard, the gunman, fit an all-too-common profile: A white man in his 30s, he exhibited signs of emotional instability and a hostility toward women. Hennard reportedly ignored some men during his rampage to target women.
The mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex., on Sunday night ended with a higher death toll than Hennard’s. Authorities say Devin Kelley, 26, entered a church and began shooting those attending the service, killing at least 26 men, women and children. Kelley, also a white man, had served in the Air Force until he was court-martialed on accusations that he had assaulted his wife and child.
This seems like a consistent pattern: Young, white men with demonstrable backgrounds of mental instability or violence against women taking the lives of as many people as possible. But the picture is more complicated than that.
As you know, the massacre in Sutherland Springs was not the new modern record-holder for the most people killed in a mass shooting. In fact, it comes in fifth. Since January 2007, there have been four shootings in which more people were killed than were slain on Sunday night.
Two of those four mass killings — in Las Vegas last month and at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 — were also committed by white men. The other two — at Virginia Tech in 2007 and in Orlando last year — were not. Of the five deadliest incidents, only Kelley had faced legal sanctions for domestic violence. Only two, the attackers at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, had demonstrable records of mental health issues.
There are a lot of qualifiers that are important here. The first is that the shooters in Las Vegas and Orlando and at Virginia Tech also had anecdotal incidents in which they’d stalked or abused women. The other qualifier is that these are just the five deadliest incidents.
America doesn’t agree on what constitutes a mass shooting more broadly. The FBI defines a mass killing as the deaths of three or more people in a public place. The Gun Violence Archive tracks another metric: incidents in which four or more people are struck by gunfire.
According to the archive’s data, there have been 307 such incidents in 2017 alone. There have been 54 days this year in which at least 10 people have been killed or wounded in such incidents. More than 2,000 people have been killed or injured in total so far this year.
That death total rose despite the long-term drop in gun violence in the United States since its peak in the 1990s.