Mass shootings – a short research

Mass shootings – a short research


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A subset of national homicides that captures both the headlines and the attention of policy makers is that of mass shootings – in schools, workplaces, places of worship, grocery stores, and elsewhere.

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Definitions are not always consistent, but a common definition (and the one used by the primary database for this project) of a mass shooting is:

a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms — not including the offender(s) — within one event, and at least some of the murders occurred in a public location or locations in close geographical proximity (e.g., a workplace, school, restaurant, or other public settings), and the murders are not attributable to any other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle).

Following each mass shooting, there are inevitably calls for policy makers to “do something” whether it is to tighten gun control laws, improve mental health programs, provide armed security (perhaps including teachers) at schools, increase active shooter response training, redesign school or office buildings to be more secure, or something else.

Despite recurring calls to “do something,” few meaningful policies to stop these mass shootings have been broadly implemented, and one reason for this is that there does not appear to be a consensus on the root cause(s) of the problem: is it about gun control, or is it about mental health, or is it about armed security, or something else? Maybe it’s about all of these, but which ones are the dominant underlying factors?


The purpose of this assignment is to introduce you to formulating hypotheses that can be resolved (typically by refuting them through the scientific method) using quantitative methods. You do not have to resolve the hypotheses that you formulate, but you should think about them deeply enough to imagine how you might ultimately use quantitative data to resolve them

· Task: First, read the information at the following two web sites related to mass shootings that employ an interactive online database:



· Task: Use the interactive online database from these websites to formulate hypotheses about the “common denominators” of mass shootings. In other words, develop at least one (or more) hypothesis about the relationships between some of the potential variables related to mass shootings. These will likely be hypotheses that you think can be refuted; therefore they are likely to be worded oppositely of what you think (or hope) is true. (I know this seems strange, but the sooner that you understand this, the better.)

· Suggestion for hypothesis wording: Suppose that you hope to show that more deaths (in mass shootings) have been caused by assault rifles than by other weapons. Then your hypothesis would be something like “the number of deaths caused by assault rifles is (statistically) the same as caused by other weapons” (i.e., something that you hope to refute, thereby supporting what you hoped to show).

· These hypotheses should be amenable to quantitative resolution.

· These hypotheses should be ones that you think could reasonably be addressed by the full offline database (refer to the appendix for more details about the full database), although perhaps not by the interactive online database. Note that you do not need to verify that the full database will actually resolve your hypotheses, but only that you think it might.

· Avoid “obvious” hypotheses such as shooters are equally distributed among women and men (which is easily refuted), or other factors already addressed in the websites. Develop your own ideas.

· Avoid “definitional” hypotheses such as most mass shootings kill fewer than 4 victims (because this is refuted by the definition of a mass shooting for this database).

· Task: Identify at least one “important” question that policy makers should want answered but cannot be answered from the data in this database (even the full database). The purpose for this is to recognize that even very good databases cannot address all important questions on a topic.

· Optional task: If you can, identify a data source that could be useful in addressing the important question that you raise. I am not suggesting that any of the following would actually be useful, but there are a multitude of related web sites such as:







Task: Finally, summarize your findings in a short paragraph

Use the scientific method; avoid advocacy

This is a research topic where many people, perhaps you too, have strong opinions. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I expect for you to perform a neutral, data-driven approach where hypotheses may eventually be accepted or rejected. It is okay if your hypotheses come from your previously held viewpoints, and great if they contradict some of your previously held assumptions, but this assignment is not a forum for you to espouse your personal beliefs on this subject.


Appendix: Variables in the full (offline) database

This a list of the variables in the full (offline) database, of which the interactive online database is only a partial view. This is provided only to give you an idea of some of the hypotheses that could be resolved from the complete database, as well as some hypotheses that still could not be resolved,

Case #

Shooter Last Name

Shooter First Name



Full date

Day of the week




Days since previous shooting



Shooting location address




Urban, suburban, or rural area

Location type

Insider / Outsider

Bifurcated (multiple locations)

Location 2 (if bifurcated)

Armed person on the scene when shooting started

Specify armed person on scene (if applicable)



Number killed

Number injured

Kidnapping or hostage element







Sexual orientation



School performance

School performance specified

Birth order

Number of siblings

Number of older siblings

Number of younger siblings

Relationship status

Children (shooter was a parent)

Employment status

Employment type

Military service

Military branch

Community involvement (participation in civic life and membership in local clubs and organizations)

Community involvement specified



Criminal record / prior police contact

Previous homicide(s)

History of physical violence

History of domestic abuse (including non-physical forms of abuse)

Domestic abuse type 1

Domestic abuse type 2

Domestic abuse type 3

History of sexual offenses (rape, molestation, indecent exposure, child pornography, sexual harassment, or other acts with a sexual motivation)

Gang association

Terror group association

Hate group association

Played violent video games (first-person shooters)





Raised by single parent

Suicide of parent

Childhood trauma

Childhood socioeconomic status

Adult trauma

Recent or traumatic breakup

Recent or traumatic change in work status or trouble at work

Signs of being in crisis (notable behavioral changes)

Timeframe of when signs of crisis began

Signs of crisis specified

Recent or ongoing stressor

Inability to perform daily tasks

Notably depressed mood

Unusually calm or happy

Rapid mood swings

Increased agitation

Abusive behavior


Losing touch with reality





Hospitalization for psychiatric reasons

Voluntary or involuntary hospitalization

Prior counseling

Voluntary or mandatory counseling

Prescribed psychiatric medication

Treatment (counseling, medication, hospital) in the 6 months prior to shooting

Mental illness

Known family history of mental health issues

Autism spectrum disorder

Substance use and abuse

Health issues

Specify health issues



Known prejudices 1 (not motive)

Known prejudices 2 (not motive)

Known prejudices 3 (not motive

Motive: Racism

Motive: Religious hate

Motive: Misogyny

Motive: Homophobia

Motive: Employment issue (fired, lost promotion)

Motive: Economic issue (issues with money)

Motive: Legal issue

Motive: Relationship issues (break-up, separation)

Motive: Interpersonal conflict (non-domestic, with coworkers, friends, family)

Motive: Fame-seeking

Motive: Other

Motive: Unknown

Domestic spillage

Role of psychosis in the shooting


Social media use related to shooting

Leakage (communication to a third party of an intent to do harm) prior to the shooting

Leakage – How?

Leakage – Who?

Leakage – Specific?

Additional leakage – How?

Additional leakage – Who?

Additional leakage – Specific?

Interest in past mass violence

Relationship with other shooting(s)

Specify relationship to other shooting(s)

Legacy token (left something behind)

Connection to pop culture

Specify pop culture connection


Performance (“will to representation”)



Notable or obsessive interest in firearms

Firearm proficiency

Total weapons brought to the scene

Other weapons or gear

Specify other weapons or gear



On scene outcome

Attempt to flee

Insanity defense at trial

Criminal sentence




FIREARMS TAB (guns used for each shooting in database)

Make and model



Gun used in shooting


Extended magazine (replacing the standard magazine with one of a higher capacity)

When obtained

Legal purchase

Illegal purchase

Assembled with legal parts





VICTIMS TAB (individuals killed for each shooting in database)




Knew Perpetrator

If known, relationship with perpetrator

Life expectancy

Years Lost


COMMUNITY TAB (Shootings 1995 and after only)


Shooting Start Time

Shooting End Time

Time of Day (Start Time)

Zip Code

Total Population (U.S. Census)

Median Age

% White Alone

% Female Household

% Rental Units

% Employed

% High School Graduate

% College Graduate

% Without Health Insurance

Nearest Hospital (in Miles)

N Mental Health Providers in Zip Code

N Gun Stores in Zip Code

Size of Police Department

Homicide Rate (FBI UCR)

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