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Motivation

Historians can contribute an analysis of motivation in mass gun violence to the larger conversation.  Motivation, however, is difficult to assess in many cases, such as with the Las Vegas shooter, who did not leave behind any notes or digital files to explain his actions.

If officials have determined one or more motivations in gun violence events, some common categories or themes emerge.  This categorization helps make some sense of these violent acts and can guide future actions with respect to legislation, memorialization, prevention, and …

Cultural perceptions influence the categorization of motivation for gun violence.  One big example is white supremacy versus terrorism versus religion versus state-sponsorship:  these might be best combined as one category, or is it helpful to keep these separate? But interpretation of events might put them in different categories.  It is clear that cultural preconceptions and biases shape assignment of events to categories.

Mental health is often raised as a reason for gun violence.  A person’s mental health, such as depression or anger management issues, may contribute to a decision to perpetrate gun violence, but some may argue that mental health is not a deciding factor in and of itself.

Between 2000 and 2013, 10% of mass shooters were males who targeted current, former, or estranged wives, as well as current or former girlfriends (Blair, 2014 link).

Blair 2014 also noted that 9% of shooters attacked family members or people they had a close personal relationship with.  These shooters (about half) often continued their violence in other locations.

Grievance against a current or former employer or employee:

Grievance against a teacher, student, or school in general:

  • Columbine shooting
  • Parkland shooting

Other grievances:

  • Shooter in the June 28, 2018 Capital Gazette (Annapolis, MD) killed 5 people in the newsroom.  The shooter referred to his 2011 case against the newspaper, objecting to its coverage of his relationship to a former high school classmate — the paper had characterized the shooter’s actions as harassment of a former girlfriend.
  • June 17, 2015 Charleston, SC, church shooting that killed 9 people, including the senior minister who was also a state senator.  The shooter expressed white supremacist language and was photographed with the Confederate flag. This connection prompted the National Park Service to evaluate its sale of the Confederate flag in park visitor centers.  Major retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Amazon, decided to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise. A national conversation about Confederate memorials resulted in the removal of many Confederate statues and other memorials in states across the country.  The South Carolina state legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
  • March 15, 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand shooting at two mosques that killed 50 and wounded 50 people.  The shooter released a manifesto shortly before the shooting in which he expressed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, wanting to stop what he called 1,300 years of Muslim devastation of the West and to ignite a “race war”.

March 15, 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand shooting at two mosques that killed 50 and wounded 50 people.  The shooter released a manifesto shortly before the shooting in which he expressed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, wanting to stop what he called 1,300 years of Muslim devastation of the West and to ignite a “race war”.  (see also White supremacy)

Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue (Oct 27, 2018): 11 killed

violence against trans women of color especially

(different from white supremacy and/or religious-based motivations):

  • December 2, 2015 San Bernardino shooting: killed 14 people and wounded 22.  A married couple, with the husband born in the US and the wife a permanent resident, had become radicalized via foreign terrorist groups, but had acted independently.  The incident ended in a high-speed chase and shootout, with officers killing the two perpetrators.
  • June 12, 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting: 49 killed, 53 wounded.  Occurred in a gay nightclub during its Latinx night, but officials determined that the shooter did not know it was a gay club and was retaliating for US intervention abroad
  • Wounded Knee
  • other historical Army incursions against Native Americans

Some shooters intend to commit suicide, but decide to take out others before killing themselves.

In addition to mass gun violence, suicide represents a huge proportion of all firearm deaths in the United States. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, nearly 66% of all firearm deaths in the US are suicides with a gun; and one-half of all suicides in the US are conducted with a gun.  Clearly the element of firearms plays a role: suicide attempts with a gun have an 85% fatality rate; but attempts by other methods are only successful <5% of the time.

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