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Report: Most Mass Shooters Have 4 Things in Common

A new study on mass shootings shows that assault-style rifles are used about 25% of the time; while handguns are most often the weapon of choice. (Ultra1s/iStockphoto)
A new study on mass shootings shows that assault-style rifles are used about 25% of the time; while handguns are most often the weapon of choice. (Ultra1s/iStockphoto)
November 21, 2019

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Mass shootings often are preventable – and a majority of the weapons were obtained legally, according to a comprehensive federally funded study released this week from The Violence Project.

Researchers found that shooters tend to have four things in common: they've experienced childhood trauma; they're at a crisis point or nurse a specific grievance; they study prior massacres and they have access to a firearm.

James Densley, a cofounder of The Violence Project, a co-author of the report and a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, says people shouldn't despair – solutions are out there.

"A lot of times, we just write people off that bad things are going to happen,” he states. “And bad people are going to do bad things and there's nothing we can do about it.

“But actually our data is showing us that there's a lot of warning signs and there's a lot of actual opportunities for intervention if we have the right pieces in place."

The data show that 167 mass shootings have claimed 1,202 lives in the U.S. since 1966, with 20% of them in the last five years alone.

Nevada recently passed several policies recommended in the report – requiring background checks for gun purchases, banning bump stocks, and passing a red flag law that allows friends, family and law enforcement to petition a court to remove firearms from a person showing danger signs.

The mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 remains the deadliest in U.S. history, with 58 lives lost.

Densley says while many shooters are motivated by racism, misogyny or religious hatred, the Vegas perpetrator may have been primarily seeking notoriety.

"The motives of that particular shooter are still a little bit unknown,” Densley states. “But in the last five years, we've seen an uptick in events which seem to have a fame-seeking motivation."

The report also found that most school shooters steal or borrow a weapon from a family member and that many are suicidal.

So, programs to encourage safe storage of firearms and efforts to help students who are struggling with suicidal thoughts are highly effective strategies for gun-violence prevention.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV