Why Are Mass Shooters Almost Always Men?

We are struggling with the senselessness of yet another mass shooting. The shooter at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church identified race as his motivation. We find ourselves asking again why it’s always a white man doing the killing.

Yet, there’s no evidence that race is a factor in most shootings. Based on data Mother Jones compiled, whites are slightly over-represented among mass shooters, as are Asian-Americans and Native Americans. Latinos are notably under-represented among mass shooters, and African-Americans are proportionally represented.  (The data are at the end of this post.)

Mental illness is frequently blamed, and indeed almost 85% of shooters had possible mental illness or behavioral issues. However, this figure could be lower because not all cases are clear. Further, it’s notable that depression plays almost as large a role as psychosis. Workplace problems (and related financial stress); and relationship problems, typically rejection, also seem to be common themes.

What is clear is that the shooter is almost always a man.

Why is a big question. There are more knowledgeable people than myself who have written about the issue. I will note, however, that male depression is often overlooked. It’s a central factor in men being 79% of completed suicides, and it seems to be a factor in mass shootings as well.

I also wonder why Latinos are under-represented among mass shooters. Is there something different about Latino culture? For example, shooters often seem socially isolated. Do Latino men have stronger social ties, and if so, does this give a struggling Latino man a healthier outlet for his stress?

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The Data

Mother Jones published information about mass shootings in the United States from 1982 to 2012, and in June 2015 they updated their database, adding eight shootings that happened from 2013 to mid-2015. Oddly, Mother Jones missed a ninth shooting – Elliot Rodger.

Their initial report found that 44 out of 62 gunmen were white men. Only one shooter was a woman, and she was white too. Of the nine mass shootings since 2012, three of the gunmen were white only, and one (Rodger) was multi-racial (white and Asian).

This means that 48 out of 71 shooters, or 67.6%, were white only, non-Hispanic, as are 62.6% of all Americans according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Asians were 8.5% of the shooters and 5.3% of the general population, while Native Americans were 4.2% of shooters and 1.2% of the general population. African-Americans are 13% to 14% in both cases. But Latinos, who are 17.1% of Americans in general, were only 5.6% of mass shooters.

Of the 71 shooters 68, or 95.8%, were men.

Mother Jones did not say whether anyone was mentally ill or not, and instead noted how others described the person, and whether the person was known to have been under psychiatric care. Including Elliot Rodger, 46 out of 71 (64.8%) mass shooters might have had mental health issues. Eight were described as depressed (11.3% of all shooters, and 17.4% of those with possible mental health issues). Nine were described as schizophrenic or paranoid (12.7% of all shooters, and 19.6% of those with possible mental health issues). Another 13 shooters (18.3%) may have had previous behavioral issues.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

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