The Real Reason Mass Shootings Are on the Rise

The Real Reason Mass Shootings Are on the Rise

Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – June 17, 2015: The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where nine people were shot. was the

Source: Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Tragically, mass public shootings are on the rise in the U.S. If you watch the news, this fact is unlikely to surprise you, as these terrible events have increasingly dominated newscasts in recent months and years.

An FBI study of “active shooter incidents” confirms that mass public shootings have increased in recent years (1). The FBI based its study on 192 so-called active shooter cases which occurred between 2017 and 2021. The FBI defined an active shooter as one who is “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public place,” regardless of the number of casualties that occur.

Please note that the FBI specifically excludes from its analysis family-related mass murders that occurred in private locations such as homes. The motive for murdering family members (familicides) in private is very different from the motive for murdering strangers in public.

For the period between 2017 and 2021, the FBI’s active shooter incident data reveals a dramatic upward trend. Specifically, the number of active shooter incidents identified in 2021 (61 incidents) represents a 52.5 percent increase from 2020 (40 incidents) and a 96.8 percent increase from 2017 (31 incidents). Sadly, we are easily on pace to exceed the 2021 total in 2022.

The perpetrators of mass shootings are often incorrectly portrayed as mentally unhinged individuals who simply “snap” and engage in a killing rampage. The reality is that the majority of mass public shooters are individuals who would not be classified as either clinically or legally insane at the time of their crime.

The perpetrators are more likely to be angry, vengeful individuals who seek retribution for a perceived harm done by some person, group, or institution. Moreover, mass public shooting incidents are generally premeditated and often planned well in advance of their commission.

Unfortunately, in their search for a solution to the mass shooting epidemic, certain interested parties and groups in the U.S. have made scapegoats out of legislators, lobbyists, gun manufacturers, law enforcement authorities, the mental health field, schools, and even the media. With every accusation made, some interested party declares that one or more of the aforementioned groups are boogeymen and thus to blame for the mass shooting epidemic.

In reality, most of the scapegoating arguments are myopic and self-serving for the interested party. That is not to say there are no truths to be found in the popular arguments, such as the blaming of assault rifles for the mass shooting problem. It is certainly true that assault rifles exacerbate the problem, but their existence and availability are not the cause of it.

What is missing from the scapegoating arguments is a good look in the mirror by us as a society and a culture. Other developed countries that we consider to be our peers simply do not have the problem with mass shooting incidents that we do. It is my contention that the very roots of our mass shooting epidemic may be found in our core cultural value of fierce individualism, a belief in vengeance, and the ethic that might makes right. These cultural values have been central to what it means to be an American since our nation’s birth. We have always loved to settle disputes (at the individual and group levels) with violence and guns and we gleefully celebrate vigilantism in our popular culture.

I further contend there are powerful, divisive, and negative social forces at work today that fuel the increase in mass public shootings. These factors include but are not limited to: financial and healthcare fears, a declining belief in the American dream, distrust of the government, racism, xenophobia, religious and gender biases, hate crime, domestic terrorism, and near-constant war since 2001. Political and social divisions fueled by seemingly ubiquitous hate speech across media platforms over the last few years have created an environment where violence is seemingly inevitable.

The above factors have led to fear, alienation, powerlessness, rage, and nihilism for millions of people in our country. Tragically, but predictably, an increasing number of Americans are striking out in horrible, public acts of mass violence against innocent strangers that are driven by rage and unfounded retribution. This existential crisis demands that we reassess our core values and priorities as a society, and it deserves our collective commitment to change and grow if we are to stem the tide of this terrible phenomenon.