Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Criminologist says mass shootings show no pattern or increase

A gold plaque hangs next to a bullet hole in the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., where a lone gunman killed six worshipers and injured three others last August. It is engraved with the words, "We Are One."

"It frames the wound," says Pardeep Kaleka, son of former temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died in the massacre. "The wound of our community, the wound of our family, the wound of our society."

In the past week, that wound has been ripped open with shocking ferocity.

In what has become sickeningly familiar, gunmen opened fire on innocents in what should be the safest of places — first, at a shopping mall in Oregon, and then, unthinkably, at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Once again there were scenes of chaos as rescuers and media descended on the scene. Once again there were pictures of weeping survivors clutching one another, of candlelight vigils and teddy bears left as loving memorials. And once again a chorus of pundits debated gun control and violence as society attempted to make sense of the senseless.

"Are there any sanctuaries left?" Kaleka asked. "Is this a fact of life, one we have become content to live with? Can we no longer feel safe going Christmas shopping in a mall, or to temple, or to the movies? What kind of society have we become?"

As this year of the gun lurches to a close, leaving a bloody wake, we are left to wonder along with Kaleka: What is the meaning of all this?

Even before Portland and Newtown, we saw a former student kill seven people at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif. We saw gunmen in Seattle and Minneapolis each kill five people and then themselves. We saw the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at a theater in Aurora, Colo., devolve into a bloodbath, as 12 people died and 58 were wounded; 24-year-old James Holmes was arrested outside.

And yet those who study mass shootings say they are not becoming more common.

"There is no pattern, there is no increase," says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston's Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.

The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds know the identity of their killer.

Society moves on, he says, because of our ability to distance ourselves from the horror of the day, and because people believe that these tragedies are "one of the unfortunate prices we pay for our freedoms."

Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.

Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.

Still, he understands the public perception — and extensive media coverage — when mass shootings occur in places like malls and schools. "There is this feeling that could have been me. It makes it so much more frightening."

"Rampage violence seems to lead to repeated cycles of anguish, investigation, recrimination, and heated debate, with little real progress in prevention," wrote John Harris, clinical assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona, in the June issue of American Journal of Public Health. "These types of events can lead to despair about their inevitability and unpredictability."

And there is despair and frustration, even among those who have set out to stop mass killings.

"We do just seem to slog along, from one tragedy to the next," Tom Mauser said last July, after the Aurora shootings.

Mauser knows all about the slog. He became an outspoken activist against such violence after his 15-year-old son, Daniel, was slain along with 12 others at Columbine High School in 1999. But he has grown frustrated and weary.

"There was a time when I felt a certain guilt," said Mauser. "I'd ask, 'Why can't I do more about this? Why haven't I dedicated myself more to it?' But I'll be damned if I'm going to put it all on my shoulders.

"This," he said, "is all of our problem."

Criminologist says mass shootings show no pattern or increase 12/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 11:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What to expect: Howl-O-Scream is crawling with monsters this year

    Blogs

    Those darn scare actors at Howl--O-Scream. They get me.
    Every. Stinking. Time.

    The scare zones like this one, Wasteland, can look as scary and elaborate as the haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens.
  2. Rick Baker debuts new campaign ad to woo younger voters

    Blogs

    Former mayor Rick Baker's campaign unveiled a reboot of sorts Tuesday with the debut of a new TV ad.

    Delores Green and mayoral candidate Rick Baker smile as they look at a selfie that Green took at a food truck food giveaway at Rick Baker's disaster assistance registration center on Central Ave. in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15.
  3. Editorial: DOT listens, adjusts on I-275 plans in Tampa

    Editorials

    Florida continues to improve its plan for modernizing the interstate system in Tampa Bay. The Florida Department of Transportation has unveiled four new options for rebuilding I-275 near downtown Tampa, and some of them would ditch previous plans for toll lanes downtown while keeping express lanes for faster, …

    State officials are re-evaluating parts of I-4 and I-275 in Tampa as part of a supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS. 
  4. College basketball scandal dips into Tampa Bay

    Preps

    Tuesday's national college basketball scandal has recruiting ties to Tampa Bay.

    In this March 15, 2012, file photo, San Diego State assistant coach Tony Bland, left, talks during NCAA college basketball practice in Columbus, Ohio. Bland was identified in court papers, and is among 10 people facing federal charges in Manhattan federal court, Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File]
  5. Datz to open in St. Petersburg, join the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Food & Dining

    Now Datz news.

    Get it? Tuesday, Datz, the longtime line-out-the-door, oft-Instagrammed and -Yelped Tampa stalwart known for shock-and-awe sandwiches and oh-so-much bacon, announced it is coming to St. Petersburg.

    Lunch guest eat at Datz Deli at 2616 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa. Times files.