Tarleton’s IPAC Issues Report on Mass Shooting Analysis

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STEPHENVILLE — After May’s horrific events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Tarleton State University’s Institute for Predictive Analytics in Criminal Justice conducted an analysis on the history of mass shootings. Recommendations would follow. 

IPAC analyzed a database produced by The Violence Project that contains details on 178 mass shootings occurring between 1966 and 2021. The Violence Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center in Saint Paul, Minn., dedicated to data-driven violence prevention.

“The tragedy in Uvalde is a reminder to all of us that mass shootings have become a common feature of the American landscape,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts and IPAC founder and director. “This research shows how the fragile identities of the shooters, access to weapons and critical events create the elements for a mass shooting.” 

Findings:

  • Insider relationship. School and workplace shootings are almost always committed by individuals with an inside relationship to the location.
  • Shooter demographics. Mass shooters are almost universally male (98%) and typically younger than 30. In the past 20 years shooters have become more racially diverse. Shooters have a high likelihood of being single, divorced or separated.
  • Mental illness history. Approximately 69% of mass shooters exhibit signs of mental illness.
  • Criminal history. Approximately 65% of mass shooters have a criminal history. 
  • Recent employment change. Prior to the incident, 55% of shooters have experienced a recent employment change. When controlling for only workplace shootings, the percentage rose significantly to 78%.
  • Forewarning. Most workplace shooters and all but one school shooter communicated their intentions in advance.
  • Outcome of shooter. Sixty percent of mass shooters die at the scene (suicide or police shooting). Most of shooter deaths (65%) are suicides.
  • Weapons. Slightly more than 50% of the weapons used in mass shootings are handguns, followed by assault rifles (24%), rifles (13%) and shotguns (12%).
  • Weapon acquisition. Mass shooters obtain their weapons legally 66% of the time. 
  • Weapons acquired 30 days prior. Approximately 31% of mass shootings involve weapons acquired within 30 days before the shooting.  
  • State demographic. States with higher population density (California, Texas, Florida) appear highly correlated to number of mass shootings. States with relatively low population density (Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Vermont, New Mexico and Maine) have had no mass shootings. Also, states that are more demographically homogenous (West Virginia, Vermont, Maine) have fewer mass shootings; heterogenous states experience more.  
  • Aggrieved entitlement. People with an identity of privilege (white, male) who perceive that they are not reaping the benefits of that privilege may experience what sociologists call aggrieved entitlement. They may believe they are entitled to something their identity privilege has not secured for them, so they feel empowered by that privilege to use revenge. In this study, this is most noticeable among males (gender privilege).
  • Location type. The workplace is the most common location for a mass shooting (31%), followed by commerce areas (18%), restaurants/bars (13%) and schools (6.3%). 

Recommendations

  • Employers. Should be fluent with their personnel and emerging employment issues and remain vigilant following employee discipline. Employers should develop a monitoring system so they can intervene prior to a full mental health crisis. 
  • Schools and universities. Should take proactive steps with students who indicate potentially threatening language or suicidal thoughts. All threatening communication should be taken seriously. A culture of bullying should not be tolerated. 
  • Home and family. Families with firearms in the home should provide for safe storage, as this can lead to both suicide prevention and a possible reduction in mass shootings. Those in the home may be the first to recognize behavioral changes and signs of an emerging crisis, and they should take steps to mitigate.
  • Legislatures. Should carefully consider the current age restrictions to buy weapons, particularly assault rifles. And they should consider developing a mechanism regarding the legal purchase of weapons being reportable to local law enforcement.  

The full report is available at https://web.tarleton.edu/ipac/.

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