Inside the minds of American mass shooters

Since 1966, mass shootings have occurred regularly in the US. Attackers are linked by frequent mental health problems and access to guns

While nearly anything, including human hands, may be used to kill, the gun is created for the specific purpose of killing a living creature.

Gun-love can be akin to non-chemical addictions like gambling or hoarding, either of which can have devastating effects, mainly economic, but murder, suicide, accidental death, and mass shootings result only from guns.

The definition of mass shootings varies, but is generally defined by four or more deaths in one location by a lone gunman or in a few cases, such as Columbine and San Bernardino, two.

Although each of these mass killings is idiosyncratic, they often share many features, including but not limited to the most obvious, which bears repeating their use of guns.

There were 127 mass shootings with 874 victims in the United States between 1966 and 2016, an average of seven deaths in each. Nearly all of them were carried out by white men.

Only three of the 130 shooters were women. If domestic shootings are included meaning a man shooting his partner, often including their children and other relatives the number of mass shootings rises dramatically.

A New York Times report, titled How Often Do Mass Shootings Occur? On Average, Every Day, Records Show, uses the measure of four or more wounded, and includes domestic shootings. More than two-thirds took place in private residences and included a current or former intimate partner or family member of the attacker.

Half of all victims were women.

Investigative journalist Jane Mayer has further linked domestic violence and many non-domestic mass shootings. Shortly after the June 2017 shooting that wounded House majority whip Steve Scalise and four others, it was learned that the shooter, James Hodgkinson, had a history of domestic violence. The shooter in the 2015 Planned Parenthood Clinic attack had an arrest record of rape and sexual violence.

Mayer writes: Many domestic-violence suspects, like Hodgkinson, are arrested only to have the charges dropped later, which leaves them armed and dangerous. The National Rifle Association and its allies have successfully argued that a mere arrest on domestic-violence charges is not sufficient reason to deprive a citizen of his right to bear arms.

Devin Patrick Kelley, the former US air force serviceman who killed at least 26 people and injured another 20 in a Texas church this past Sunday morning, had been court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson. He was able to purchase his murder weapons even though, since 1996, federal law has banned people with domestic violence convictions from owning guns.

Some mass shootings have taken aim at women simply because they are women. On 16 October 1991, a 35-year-old civilian named George Jo Hennard drove his pickup truck into the plate glass window of Lubys Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas home to the enormous Fort Hood army base while some 150 patrons were having dinner. Armed with a Glock 17 and a Ruger P89, he then jumped out of his vehicle and into the restaurant yelling: All women of Killeen and Belton are vipers! Then he began shooting, killing 23 people, 14 of them women whom he appeared to be targeting, yelling bitch! as he shot. The violence ended when he shot himself.

A locker-room lust for weaponry

Like Sundays massacre, the first notable mass shooting was carried out by a white man with a military background who lived in Texas, where there is an unbridled gun culture. Some experts have also argued that this attack, in 1966, may have been a model for Stephen Craig Paddock, the shooter who murdered 58 people in Las Vegas this October.

The University of Texas (UT) mass shooting is often not counted among lists of such killings, because there were no more that fit the definition until 1982, when they began with some regularity. But, in retrospect, the 1966 attack was no anomaly more like a comet that would return.

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A UT student fatally shot 14 people from the University of Texass clock tower. Photograph: Marshall Tidrick/AP

Former marine sniper and UT engineering student Charles Whitman shot and killed 14 people and wounded another 32 while perched for 90 minutes on top of the 27-story clock tower on the University of Texas, Austin, campus, before he was killed by police.

Early that morning, he had strangled his mother to death and murdered his wife by stabbing her in the heart as she slept. He later explained that he didnt want them to be ashamed of him and suffer for his actions.

Whitman had been in the Marine Corps, but did not serve in combat and completed his service before US troops were deployed to Vietnam. However, he had suffered a head injury from a Jeep accident during his service. Whitman kept a detailed journal in the months before the shootings, recording his severe headaches and feelings of rage and his failure to get help from multiple doctors he consulted and the ineffectiveness of the medications they prescribed. In the autopsy of his body, doctors discovered a pecan-sized tumor in his brain that could have caused his derangement.

In the wake of the tragedy, rather than taking action to improve preventive healthcare at the university or the state, authorities created the first Swat team, soon to be replicated in nearly every police force in the country.

In January 2016, a new Texas law went into effect allowing handgun permit holders, who had been required to conceal their weapons, to carry handguns openly except not on public or private university or college campuses.

Then, on 1 August 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas tower shooting massacre, the legislature included public university campuses in the right to openly carry handguns.

Especially among Texas politicians, theres a locker-room lust for weaponry that belies noble-sounding proclamations about self-protection and Second Amendment rights, the writer Lawrence Wright, himself a Texan, has written.

In 2010, Governor Perry boasted of killing with a single shot a coyote that was menacing his daughters Labrador. Perry was jogging at the time, but naturally he was packing heat: a .380 Ruger. The guns manufacturer promptly issued a Coyote Special edition of the gun, which comes in a box labelled for sale to Texans only.

A sign of potency?

James Oliver Huberty was born and lived most of his life in Ohio. A serial failure at starting a business, he moved to Tijuana, Mexico, then San Ysidro, California, in 1983. Back in Ohio, he had been a dedicated survivalist, accumulating an arsenal and also hoarding food and other survival necessities, all of which he took along in the move west.

He believed government regulations had caused his business failures and that international bankers controlled the Federal Reserve, with communist dominance everywhere, economic collapse and nuclear war imminent. (These were the Reagan years.)

Guns are a sign of potency for many white Americans who otherwise feel they have been wrongly disempowered or disenfranchised, whether by the government, by an employer or colleagues, or by members of other social, political or ethnic groups.

The mass shooting that Huberty carried out in a McDonalds in San Ysidro, in 1984, was the largest up to that time. It left 22 dead, including the shooter, and 19 wounded; one of the victims was pregnant, and another victim was an eight-month-old baby. San Ysidro is inside the United States, on the border across from Tijuana, Mexico, but 90% of its population is composed of people of Mexican descent; nearly all the shooting victims were.

Huberty, a 41-year-old Anglo-American, was armed with a shotgun and an Uzi. After 78 minutes of his killing spree, with at least 245 rounds fired, a Swat team moved in and shot him.

Nearly 30% of all mass shootings that have resulted in multiple deaths have occurred in workplaces, usually by an angry former employee. The first workplace shooting that resulted in a large death toll took place in Edmond, Oklahoma, a small college town north of Oklahoma City. In August 1986, a 44-year-old former marine and part-time US Postal Service worker, after receiving a negative work review, stormed into the towns small, busy post office.

Dressed as if for work in his mail carriers uniform and carrying three handguns in his mailbag, he killed 14 and wounded six before shooting himself.

In the decade before, there had been five other post office shootings by former or current workers, with one or two fatalities. More followed almost annually, giving rise in the early 1990s to the grim term going postal. Dozens of other workplace shootings have taken place in office buildings, strip malls, factories, night clubs, restaurants, military bases, and universities (employee-related, in addition to the separate category of school shootings, targeting students) during the time period of mass shootings, from the late 1980s on.

Sandy Hook: baffling and tragic

Thirteen per cent of mass shootings have occurred in schools. Not the first but the most shocking one up to that time was the 1999 Columbine high school shootings by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that took 13 lives 12 students and a teacher.

The apparently normal upper-middle-class families of the two high school students seemed an unlikely setting to produce such violence under their noses, without their noticing anything awry about their sons. The shooting rampage inside the school took place over several hours, while most students escaped. Only after the sound of gunfire ceased did police storm the building, where they found the two killers had shot themselves.

Certainly there had been many shootings in schools from the early 1800s to the 1966 Texas tower massacre, but none had been mass shootings with multiple victims. There were dozens of school shooting incidents between the 1966 UT tower shooting and 1989, but they began with troubling frequency and became more deadly in the 1990s, culminating in Columbine at the end of the millennium. After 2000, the number of school shootings increased from single digits to double digits by 2005, with three catastrophic ones, none of which fit the alleged patterns that had been theorized mainly about possible reactions to bullying bringing into question whether any of them did.

None was more baffling and tragic than the December 2012 mass shooting at the elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, where 20-year old Adam Lanza slaughtered 20 first-graders along with six adult school personnel before ending his own life. Children and babies had been killed in past mass shootings, but not specifically targeted, as at Sandy Hook.

Earlier, Lanza had shot and killed his mother while she slept in the home they shared. The mother, Nancy Lanza, was a gun hoarder and avid recreational shooter. Because her son had Aspergers syndrome, he was mostly home-schooled and had little social life, and she found that he enjoyed going with her to the shooting range, which she apparently considered appropriate therapy. She obviously had no fear of possible violence from the son, as she kept her multiple high-powered firearms and ammunition in the house where they both lived.

On 16 April 2007, a new record was set for mass shootings, with 32 dead and 23 wounded on the Virginia Tech University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The shooter was 23-year-old senior Seung-Hui Cho, using Glock 19 and Walther P22 pistols, and stocked with four hundred rounds of ammunition. The other national news coming from Virginia that spring was eclipsed by the shooting the 18-month celebration of the founding of the first British colony of the 13 that followed over the next 125 years.

The Virginia Tech shootings were described in 2007 as the worst mass killing, the worst massacre, in US history. Descendants of massacred indigenous ancestors took exception to that designation. Lakota Joan Redfern expressed the reaction of many, saying: To say the Virginia shooting is the worst in all of US history is to pour salt on old wounds. It means erasing and forgetting all of our ancestors who were killed in the past.

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Virginia Tech students pass the flame of a memorial candle on the fifth anniversary of the 2007 shootings on the campus. Photograph: Daniel Lin/AP

The Virginia Tech shooter, born in South Korea and brought to the United States by his parents at eight, was himself a child of colonial war: the US war in Korea and the continued presence of tens of thousands of heavily armed US troops on the Korean peninsula. He had been diagnosed as depressed but was likely bipolar.

He appeared to be overwhelmed by wealthy, white students, who made up 75% of the undergraduate student body. In the videotaped manifesto Cho made and sent to the press before his rampage, he called his fellow students sadistic snobs and further said: You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can? You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasnt enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces werent enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasnt enough. Your vodka and cognac werent enough. All your debaucheries werent enough. Those werent enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.

Dylann Roof and Charleston

On Wednesday evening, 17 June 2015, perhaps the most historically symbolic, specifically targeted, and racially motivated mass shooting took place in Charleston, South Carolina. The site of the slaughter of nine people was a church. For evangelical Protestant congregations in the United States, Wednesday evening is prayer meeting and Bible reading in gatherings of the most dedicatedly faithful.

But this was a very specific Protestant church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church of Charleston Mother Emanuel the oldest historically black church in North America, and a historical site of slave resistance.

Later explaining that he sought to ignite a race war by his vile deed, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who is white, arrived at the Wednesday prayer meeting and was welcomed by the 12 African American attendees, including the nationally and internationally known and respected AME senior pastor, who was also a South Carolina state senator, Clementa C Pinckney.

After an hour of Bible study, Roof pulled out a Glock 41, and a .45 caliber pistol, both loaded with hollow-point bullets, reloading five times, killing all but three people present. He may have been expecting a larger attendance as he was carrying eight magazines filled with bullets.

Roof fled the bloody scene and was later apprehended and arrested. The date he had chosen to hatch his plan was obviously premeditated it was the 193rd anniversary of a slave revolt planned by the founder of Mother Emanuel.

Images circulated on social media quickly made clear that Roof was a white nationalist. First there was his manifesto loaded with slurs against African Americans, Jews, Latinos, and Asians that claimed he had become racially aware following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

He said that while searching the web to learn about the case, he concluded that the killer George Zimmerman was right; what convinced him was the information he came upon at white nationalist websites and chatrooms.

Then there was Orlando. Outdoing all the mass shootings of this type that had preceded it, 49 were killed and 53 wounded. The shooter, Omar Mateen, a 29-year old US citizen of Afghani Pashtun descent, used a SIG MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17. Like Cho, he was at war with his peers. His victims were from the LGBTQ community, most of the fatalities that night being of Puerto Rican descent; it was Latino night at the Pulse gay nightclub on 12 June 2016. Mateen had frequented the club.

This was the second mass shooting of civilians directly associated with ongoing US wars. Mateen, a Sunni Muslim, had sworn loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), the most recent terrorist jihadist group to rise out of US wars in the Middle East. Six months earlier, Syed Riz-wan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple who were legal immigrants from Pakistan, interrupted a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, where Farook was an employee. They pulled out automatic weapons, firing randomly, it appeared, killing 14 and injuring 22. Quickly, the FBI traced the terror attack back to before their immigration to the US and their allegiance to the Islamic State terror organization that the US is at war with in Iraq.

Las Vegas: 59 dead, hundreds injured

On Sunday evening, 1 October 2017, records were broken again for the number of people killed during a mass shooting perpetrated by a single gunman. On that occasion, 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock shot to death 59 people, including himself, with nearly 500 hospitalized with injuries resulting from the incident.

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In Newtown, Connecticut, dozens of people attend a vigil remembering the people killed in the Las Vegas shooting and calling for action against guns. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Paddock was born in Iowa and had lived in Florida, Texas and an upscale retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada, near the Arizona and Utah borders. Four days before his massacre-suicide, Paddock checked into a 32nd-floor suite at the luxury Mandalay Bay casino-hotel in Las Vegas. Having been a high-rolling professional gambler at the hotel for some time, Paddock was familiar to the staff, who comped him the expensive suite as a perk for gambling on their premises. Under the lax scrutiny of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Paddock managed to stockpile his room with 22 high-powered scoped rifles ranging in size from .308 to .223 caliber, two tripods, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Just after 10pm that Sunday night, Paddock broke two windows in the suite and began firing semiautomatic weapons that had been fitted with a bump stock device that allowed him to increase the speed he could fire bullets into the crowd.

His target was a packed, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of 22,000 people enjoying the final set of a country music festival taking place in the open air across from his hotel. Paddock attacked the audience with 10 long minutes of non-stop shooting.

Paddock owned multiple properties in Nevada, where police found more weapons, approximately 50 in all, half of which Paddock had purchased during the previous 12 months in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. Every weapon and device Paddock owned was legal and registered under his name, including the bump stock. For gun enthusiasts and those familiar with them, the number of weapons Paddock possessed was far from shocking.

During the days following the mass murder in Las Vegas, the NRA and Republican leadership, as well as President Donald Trump, cautioned those who immediately demanded gun control legislation not to politicize the tragic event during a time of mourning. Yet on 5 October 2017, in an unprecedented move since its extreme mass shootings radicalization, the NRA announced its support for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to consider firearms regulation: The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.

Indeed, the history of public mass shootings by a lone gunman killing or wounding strangers parallels the rise of the gun rights movement and the United States ramped-up militarism, suggesting that it is not only the sheer number of guns in the hands of private citizens or the lack of regulation and licensing, but also a gun culture at work, along with a military culture, a more difficult matter to resolve than imposing regulations on firearms.

Gun control: inconceivable?

Disturbing as mass shootings are, they currently account for only 2% of gun killings annually. The total gun deaths in the US average around 37,000 a year roughly equal to death-by-vehicle incidents with two-thirds of those deaths being suicides, leaving approximately 12,000 homicides, 1,000 of those at the hands of the police.

In a satirical essay written following the Orlando nightclub killing, historian and theologian Garry Wills concluded that gun control in the United States is inconceivable:

So this time let us skip all the sighing and promising and moments of silence. Why keep up the pretense that we are going to take any real and practical steps toward sanity? Everyone knows we are not going to do a single damn thing. We cant. We are captives of The Gun.

The Gun is patriotic. The Gun is America. The Gun is God.

In response to mass shootings, no money can be found to finance mental health facilities, mental health problems being the one attribute that nearly all the mass shooters share.

Excerpted from Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, forthcoming from City Lights in January 2018

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/10/us-mass-shootings-history

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