Authorities Know The Background Of Mass Murderers, But Will It Stop Attacks?

A study in March 2018 by the Department of Homeland Security gives insight into the nature of a mass murderer.

To this point gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates have been doing battle in the media, on the streets and in Congress. Our children are still not any safer, and the emotional protests by youngsters against guns are likely to fade away into history along with all the victims.

The aforementioned study is a review of the backgrounds of murderers based upon significant investigative work by the police and various governmental agencies.

The study begins by indicating that there were  28 incidents of mass attacks in 2017, during which three or more persons were harmed in public places across the United States. The resulting loss of 247 lives and injury to nearly 700 others has shaken America to its core. And it’s spilled over into 2018. Yet there has been little progress on the gun control front. An agency of the federal government examined these 28 incidents in excruciating detail and identified key themes that will hopefully enhance threat assessment and investigative practices.

Regardless of whether these attacks were “acts of workplace violence, domestic violence, school-based violence, or terrorism,” similar themes were observed about the killers including:

  • Half were motivated by a personal grievance.
  • Over half of the perpetrators had a history of criminal charges, mental health symptoms and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • All had at least one significant “stressor” within the last five years (a traumatic life experience), and over half were financially unstable.
  • Over three-quarters communicated and/or elicited concern from others prior to the attacks.

Here are a number of other observations. At public site attacks:

  • 46% took place at businesses (banks, retailers, law offices).
  • 32% were in open spaces (sidewalks, large outdoor events).
  • 14% were at education institutions (colleges and elementary schools).
  • The remainder took place at an airport and at churches.

Regarding weapons:

  • 82 % involved a firearm.
  • 11% vehicles.
  • 3% knives.

The resolution of an attack:

  • 29% of attackers committed suicide.
  • 32% were taken into custody at or near the scene.
  • 25% were apprehended at another location.
  • 14% were killed by law enforcement.

About gender and age:

  • All were male.
  • The ages ranged from 15 years to 66 years.

Substance abuse:

  • 54% had a history of illicit drug use.

Criminal charges and domestic violence:

  • 71% had a history of criminal charges.

Mental Health:

  • 64% experienced mental health symptoms.
  • 25% had been hospitalized or prescribed psychiatric medication.


  • 46% involved personal grievances.


  • 25% involved perceived government conspiracies.
  • A very small percentage involved race and ISIS.


  • 57% resulted in harm to only random persons.
  • 14% involved pre-selected individuals.
  • 21% included random and specific people.

Eliciting Concern:

  • 79% engaged in communications or exhibited behaviors that caused concern in others.

Note: significant stressors were most often related to: family/romantic relationships (spousal estrangements, divorces, romantic breakups, rejected proposals, physical or emotional abuse or death of a parent), personal issues (living conditions, physical illness, other disorders), work or school environments (being fired or suspended, disrespected, bullying and gossip) and contact with law enforcement that did not result in arrests or charges (domestic disturbances).

The question you should be asking is whether authorities, co-workers, classmates, family and friends should regularly observe and report individuals that might go on rampage, find a weapon and kill others. The answer is that diligence could very well enable the authorities to prevent a mass attack, but it’s a long shot.

The problem is that it is unrealistic to turn in people that are “having a bad day.” There are about 320 million people in the country. How many are having a bad day? Millions, probably?

The process of alerting authorities must be more carefully orchestrated. There are certain items in the extensive list provided earlier that should give concerned persons evidence that a tragedy may be imminent.

Eliciting concern from others is one of these items. If a person, young or old, talks about hurting others or posts messages in this regard on social media, they should be referred to the authorities immediately.

This study has caused me to consider whether the prevalence of guns is a reason for mass attacks. Interestingly, other than the use of firearms in 82% of the attacks, violence is not specifically attributed to gun ownership. In other words, if you own guns, it does not foretell a propensity to use them in a mass attack. Then again, mass attacks almost always involve guns.

The other important items that are almost always prevalent are past criminal activity, illicit use of drugs and alcohol and mental illness. The existence of a stressor in every case is not really helpful because so many Americas have had traumatic experiences in the past five years.

The study did not give a profile of a high probability future mass murderer. Rather it identified what characteristics that person will probably have. Unfortunately I don’t think this study will do very much to predict the actions of mass murderers. Nor does it give gun control advocates fodder to demand that the number of guns owned by Americans be reduced.


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