Three years ago, Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology at Hamline University, and James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metro State University, constructed a database of every mass shooter since 1966 who killed four or more people in a public place, and every shooting incident at schools, workplaces and places of worship since 1999. Their purpose was to gain a more meaningful and evidence-based understanding of why these shootings occur. They also compiled detailed life histories on 180 shooters, talked to five who survived their rampages, and also found several people who planned a mass shooting but changed their minds. Their research was funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice.
Their research found striking commonalities among the perpetrators of mass shootings and they suggest a data-backed, mental health-based approach could identify and address the next mass shooter beforehand. But our understanding about mass shooters has to evolve, using descriptions like “monster” are counterproductive, and talking points about mental health need to be followed by action. In short, we must find the will to do something.
These findings were published in the 2021 book The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic. A Politico interview with them, “Two Professors Found What Creates a Mass Shooter. Will Politicians Pay Attention?” by Melaine Warner can be read at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762?.
Will anyone pay attention?