Researchers analyzed mass shooting incidents between 1966 and 2012, and the results make uneasy reading for U.S. citizens.
Despite accounting for only 5% of the global population, the U.S. saw nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings from 1966-2012. According to the authors of the study, the statistics are due in part to shattered “American dreams” and easy access to firearms, reports RT.
The paper, titled “Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem,” is the first to analyze global mass shootings. Its authors presented the paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago on Sunday.
Professor Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama studied data from 171 countries between 1966-2012, and found that the U.S. had 90 mass shooters over 46 years. In fact mass shooters in the U.S. made up 31% of the world’s shootings in that time, by far the largest proportion.
The Philippines came in second, with 18 mass shootings. Lankford believes that the problem arises from high levels of gun ownership, and reports that 300 million firearms are thought to be in circulation among U.S. civilians. In 2011 a Gallup poll found that 47% of U.S. adults said they kept a gun at home.
“My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation’s civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters,” Lankford said in a statement. “Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings. My study provides empirical evidence of a positive association between the two.”
Another causal factor is the breakdown of the American Dream, says Lankford. “In the United States, where many individuals are socialized to assume that they will reach great levels of success and achieve the American Dream, there may be particularly high levels of strain among those who encounter blocked goals or have negative social interactions with their peers, co-workers, or bosses,” he said.
These strains, in conjunction with mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia, paranoia or narcissism, can create a dangerous mix and lead to mass shootings, Lankford said.
“Unfortunately, due to some combination of strains, mental illness, and American idolization of fame, some mass shooters succumb to terrible delusions of grandeur, and seek fame and glory through killing,” Lankford writes. “They accurately recognize that the only way they can guarantee that their names and faces adorn magazines, newspapers, and television is by slaughtering unarmed men, women, or children.”
Firearm ownership encourages use of multiple weapons
The use of multiple weapons is also an issue in the U.S., where mass shooters are 3.6 times more likely to employ various firearms than in other countries. Lankford links the statistics to high levels of gun ownership.
“Given the fact that the United States has over 200 million more firearms in circulation than any other country, it’s not surprising that our public mass shooters would be more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons than foreign offenders,” Lankford said.
The study also found that shooters in the U.S. target schools, factories/warehouses and offices more often than those in other countries. Foreign shooters are “significantly more likely” to strike at military installations such as bases, barracks and checkpoints.
Lankord believes that the U.S. could reduce the “number of school shootings, workplace shootings, and public mass shootings in other places if it reduced the number of guns in circulation.”
Global correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings
While the U.S. tops the global league for gun ownership, it is followed by Yemen, Switzerland, Finland and Serbia. Each of the top 5 nations for gun ownership featured among the top 15 countries for mass shooters per head of population.
Lankford insists “that is not a coincidence,” and high levels of gun ownership are linked to mass killings. The study uses the FBI definition of mass murder, which defines it as the killing of 4 or more people. Domestic incidents, gang shootings, hostage situations and robberies were not included in the study.
The study is released at a time when gun control is the subject of great debate in the United States. Mass shootings have continued apace since the end of the study period in 2012, and the problem shows no sign of abating.
The breakdown of the American Dream may have played a role in the racially motivated shooting at a traditionally black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The attacker, Dylann Roof, shot indiscriminately at the congregation, causing the deaths of 9 people. Evidence of his racist beliefs were later found online.