It’s been two years since I wrote on this topic. At that time, at least 36% of U.S. mass shooters had been trained by the U.S. military. Since then, a grand total of nobody at all has written on the topic.
I’m picking it up again, because people have started asking about it, prompted by a former Marine using apparently trained skills to murder a subway rider in New York, and shooters in Atlanta and Texas actually being identified as veterans in news reports — an extreme rarity.
However, working from the database of mass shooters created by Mother Jones, I cannot include the Atlanta shooter, who did not kill at least four people, and I cannot include any strangulations, because those are not shootings. In fact, the recent Texas mass shooter is the only one of the 15 cases I’ve added to the database from the past two years whom I’ve been able to identify as a veteran. There have of course been more than 15 shootings, but most of them don’t make it into the Mother Jones database, and some that do I eliminate in order to create a meaningful comparison. In the United States, 14.76% of the general population (male, 18-59) are veterans. By limiting my database to male U.S. citizen mass shooters, aged 18-59, I can point out that 32% of them are veterans.
Needless to say, out of a country of over 330 million people a database of 122 mass shooters is a very small group. Needless to say, statistically, virtually all veterans are not mass shooters. But that can hardly be the reason for not a single news article ever mentioning that mass shooters are over twice as likely to be veterans as the general population. After all, statistically, virtually all males, mentally ill people, domestic abusers, Nazi-sympathizers, loners, and gun-purchasers are also not mass-shooters. Yet articles on those topics proliferate like NRA campaign bribes.
There seem to me to be two key reasons that a sane communications system would not censor this topic. First, our public dollars and elected officials are training and conditioning huge numbers of people to kill, sending them abroad to kill, thanking them for the “service,” praising and rewarding them for killing, and then some of them are killing where it is not acceptable. This is not a chance correlation, but a factor with a clear connection.
Second, by devoting so much of our government to organized killing, and even allowing the military to train in schools, and to develop video games and Hollywood movies, we’ve created a culture in which people imagine that militarism is praiseworthy, that violence solves problems, and that revenge is one of the highest values. Virtually every mass shooter has used military weaponry. Most of those whose dress we are aware of dressed as if in the military. Those who’ve left behind writings that have been made public have tended to write as if they were taking part in a war. So, while it might surprise many people to find out how many mass shooters are veterans of the military, it might be hard to find mass shooters (actual veterans or not) who did not themselves think they were soldiers.
There seems to me to be one most likely reason that it’s difficult to find out which shooters have been in the military (meaning that some additional shooters probably have been, about whom I’ve been unable to learn that fact). We’ve developed a culture dedicated to praising and glorifying participation in war. It need not even be a conscious decision, but a journalist convinced that militarism is laudable would assume it was irrelevant to a report on a mass shooter and, in addition, assume that it was distasteful to mention that the man was a veteran. That sort of widespread self-censorship is the only possible explanation for the whiting out of this story.
The phenomenon of shutting down this story does not exactly require a “motive,” and I would like to recommend to reporters on mass shootings that they, too, devote a bit less energy to the often meaningless hunt for “a motive,” and a tad more to considering whether the fact that a shooter lived and breathed in an institution dedicated to mass shooting might be relevant.
For more on how I’ve reasearched this and what I think of it, see my report from two years ago.
For my data file click here.
I discussed this topic today on the Santita Jackson Show.