While the causes are still being debated, no one can deny that America has a gun violence problem. 2017 was the deadliest year for mass shootings in our country’s history, and 2018 is off to a tragic start.
But even when you take the gun control debate off the table, the fact remains that there are some deeply troubled individuals in the U.S. with violent tendencies. And while they may not appear to have anything in common at first, quite a few of them actually do share some common traits.
The statistics are startling
The U.S. makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but it’s home to 31% of global mass shooters. Gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher here than in other high income countries, and Americans own nearly half of the estimated civilian-owned guns worldwide.
Still, violent crimes happen even in countries with more restrictive laws. So while America does have a gun problem, our problem doesn’t lie solely with guns.
Next: Politics, race, and citizenship don’t matter.
First, here’s what shooters do not have in common
People are often quick to point fingers at a certain race or political party after a shooting. But the truth is, these shooters do not have any one religion, belief set, or violent video game obsession in common, according to Alex Yablon, a journalist who has spent years covering gun deaths in America. Religious or racial profiling won’t work in identifying a risk.
Next: Here’s what most shooters do have in common.
Most mass shooters have violent and troubled pasts
Whether the latest shooter is a troubled teenager, a vet with PTSD, an immigrant, or a religious zealot, it is highly likely that they have abused people close to them, such as family, domestic partners, or co-workers.
“Most people who commit serious crimes, that’s not where they began. They didn’t just start committing gun homicides,” explained Duke University psychiatrist Jeffrey Swanson told me after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And Orlando shooter Omar Mateen definitely had a violent past — he routinely beat his first wife and had threatened his co-workers.
Next: Being mentally unfit is not the same as mental illness.
A mental illness problem?
Many people are quick to use the slogan, “It’s not a gun problem, it’s a mental illness problem.” Even some politicians, like Paul Ryan and President Trump, perpetuate this theory. But that conclusion is not shared by experts or widely accepted research, and in fact, it can further stigmatize mentally ill people, most of which are harmless.
Next: It’s important to know the difference.
The difference between mental illness and mental instability
This is where things get tricky: Some mentally unstable, violent people are mentally ill, but not everyone with a mental illness is violent or unstable. In fact, a 2016 academic study estimated that a mere 4% of violence is associated with serious mental illness alone. Most violent behavior, statistically, is due to factors other than mental illness.
Next: The link between mass shootings and domestic violence.
The angry male
The vast majority of shootings are done by men. Although people from many races have been involved in shootings, since 1982, 54% of mass shootings in America were committed by white men. And in those cases, the drive seems to be pure anger.
James Holmes, who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, had just failed out of his PhD program when he opened fire. Dylann Roof was unemployed when he murdered nine people at a church in South Carolina. Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida school shooter, had a violent past and was associated with a white nationalist group. Countless stories of men angrily shooting their exes (and any friends who get in the way) tell us that this is a concerning issue.
Next: Identifying the problem can help us find a solution.
Before we can ban, we must understand
Since banning guns, men, or anger isn’t a viable solution, perhaps trying to understand the link between domestic violence and mass shootings can lead us to a realistic resolution. And while there are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all solution — after all, the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, had no history of mental illness or domestic violence — we have to start somewhere.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!