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What Do We Know About Mass Shooters?

On Thursday, an armed man opened fire through the glass doors of the Capital Gazette newsroom, killing five employees and injuring two others. The suspected gunman allegedly had a vendetta against the Annapolis-based newspaper, having lost a defamation case against them over a column written in 2011.

In the wake of active shooter incidents such as this one, the gunman’s motive and mental health status are immediately the cause of speculation.

A recent FBI report says the assumption that all active shooters are mentally ill is “misleading and unhelpful.”

The report analyzed the 50 active shooter incidents that occurred in 2016 and 2017 and concluded that only 25 percent of the active shooters had been diagnosed with a mental illness or mood/personality disorder.

Around 62 percent of the shooters, however, were dealing with stressors such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia before their attack.

What is known so far about Ramos seems to align with these trends.

The FBI concludes:

In light of the very high lifetime prevalence of the symptoms of mental illness among the U.S. population, formally diagnosed mental illness is not a very specific predictor of violence of any type, let alone targeted violence. Careful consideration should be given to social and contextual factors that might interact with any mental health issue before concluding that an active shooting was ‘caused’ by mental illness.

The report also notes that 2017 was the deadliest year for mass public shootings in American history. Over 100 people were killed in 30 incidents nationwide.

Former FBI agent James Gagliano says the rise could be attributed to several factors, including video games, accessibility to guns, copycats, the news cycle, and the web. He told USA Today:

Am I surprised by the increase? No […] Part of it is these individuals who see one gunman on the news and then think, ‘Wow. If they did this, I can do it, too.’ It’s a vicious circle and for the most part after these incidents, nothing changes. We all retreat to our corners and bicker.

Another former FBI member has a different take. Ron Hosko, a former assistant director, says he’s wary of making too much of the spikes and valleys in data, since active shooters are fairly rare and the numbers tend to fluctuate.

I think—and hope—this is just a statistical anomaly. The more time that goes by, the more we’ll be able to tell if this is a rise or just simply the numbers fluctuating.

*Text by Kathryn Fink, show produced by Paige Osburn*

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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