Num­bers sup­port per­cep­tion

Mass shoot­ings have risen in num­ber as they be­come more deadly

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa Healy Twit­ter: @LATMelis­saHealy

Mass shoot­ings in the U.S. have in­deed be­come more com­mon, a study shows.

If it seems like mass shoot­ings are be­com­ing more com­mon, re­searchers say there’s a good rea­son: They are.

Be­tween a 2011 shoot­ing at an IHOP res­tau­rant in Car­son City, Nev., that left four peo­ple dead and the 2013 at­tack on the Washington Navy Yard where 12 peo­ple were killed, a mass shoot­ing oc­curred some­where in Amer­ica once ev­ery 64 days, on av­er­age.

In the pre­ced­ing 29 years, such shoot­ings oc­curred on av­er­age ev­ery 200 days, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by re­searchers from Har­vard Univer­sity’s School of Public Health and North­east­ern Univer­sity.

The study de­fined a mass shoot­ing as an out­break of firearms vi­o­lence in which four or more vic­tims were killed and the shooter was un­known to most of his vic­tims.

Not only are such shoot­ings more com­mon, they have also be­come more deadly. In the 10-year pe­riod that ended with the Washington Navy Yard at­tack, a to­tal of 285 peo­ple died in such events. In the 13 years be­fore that, 151 peo­ple per­ished in mass shoot­ings.

Be­tween Jan. 1, 2014, and May 26, 2015, 195 more peo­ple in the United States have been slain in an ad­di­tional 43 shoot­ings, ac- cord­ing to sta­tis­tics drawn from Mass Shoot­ings Tracker, a Wiki-style site.

That doesn’t in­clude the nine vic­tims killed Wed­nes­day night at the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Although the fa­tal­i­ties in mass shoot­ings are dra­matic, they are dwarfed by the num­ber of peo­ple killed by firearms in at­tacks that af­fect one or two vic­tims at a time and largely es­cape public no­tice. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion es­ti­mated that 11,208 peo­ple died in homi­cides in­volv­ing firearms in the United States in 2013.

To­day, Amer­i­can civil­ians are thought to own as many as 310 mil­lion firearms, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco and Firearms. A 2012 re­port from the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice noted that the num­ber of guns per capita had dou­bled since 1968.

In street vi­o­lence as in mass shoot­ings, more pow­er­ful guns have also made a dif­fer­ence. An Ar­chives of Surgery study that tracked gun­shot wounds in a busy hos­pi­tal emer­gency room in Washington found that the av­er­age num­ber of gun­shot en­try wounds per pa­tient rose from 1.44 to 2.04 be­tween 1988 and 1990.

The es­ca­la­tion of wounds per pa­tient was con­sis­tent with “a shift in weaponry to­ward high­ca­pac­ity semi-au­to­matic hand­guns,” the study au­thors wrote.

Who are these mass killers? Be­tween 97% and 98% of them are men, ac­cord­ing to Columbia Univer­sity foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Michael Stone. Blacks and whites are rep­re­sented in their ranks roughly pro­por­tion­ate to their per­cent­ages in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, although Lati­nos are un­der­rep­re­sented.

While re­cent mass shoot­ings have prompted calls to keep guns away from those with men­tal ill­ness, Stone es­ti­mated that only about 22% of per­pe­tra­tors were “deeply men­tally ill.”

“Many of them are para­noid and dis­grun­tled, and many are so­ciopaths,” he said. Many mass shoot­ers — in­clud­ing Jared Lee Lough­ner, who killed six in a 2011 Tuc­son shoot­ing that also wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords — may flirt with psy­chosis through drug and al­co­hol abuse, Stone added.

Hope­less­ness is a com­mon fac­tor, as ev­i­denced by the fact that nearly half of those com­mit­ting mass killings ei­ther take their own lives or are killed by the po­lice in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the event. Many psy­chi­a­trists call that out­come “sui­cide-by-cop.”

Some peo­ple, in­clud­ing those op­posed to the kinds of gun con­trol mea­sures rou­tinely pro­posed in the af­ter­math of mass killings, dis­pute the claim that such ram­pages have es­ca­lated. Mass shoot­ings are a con­stant on the Amer­i­can land­scape and are more vis­i­ble thanks to the 24-hour news cy­cle, they say.

That’s not cor­rect, said Stephen Teret, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Law and the Public’s Health at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more.

“It’s not that they were al­ways oc­cur­ring and we weren’t aware of them,” Teret said. “Peo­ple have been col­lect­ing these data for a long time.”

But the media at­ten­tion mass shoot­ings re­ceive can make a dif­fer­ence, par­tic­u­larly if it inspires copy­cat at­tacks.

“If each mass shoot­ing in­creases the risk of the next mass shoot­ing, we need to pay close at­ten­tion to that,” Teret said.

The trend lines may soon look even worse. In 2013, Pres­i­dent Obama or­dered that the def­i­ni­tion of a mass shoot­ing be changed to one in which three or more peo­ple are killed.

By that ac­count­ing, more than 300 peo­ple died in mass shoot­ings be­tween Jan. 1, 2014, and May 26 this year, ac­cord­ing to data from Mass Shoot­ings Tracker.

Eric Gay As­so­ci­ated Press

CROSSES ON A HILL above Columbine High School in Lit­tle­ton, Colo., honor the vic­tims of the 1999 mas­sacre. A study shows that data sup­port the per­cep­tion that U.S. mass shoot­ings have be­come more com­mon.

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