[News] The anatomy of mass shootings: a legacy of failure
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 10 11:20:25 EST 2017
The anatomy of mass shootings: a legacy of failure
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - Friday 10 November 2017
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
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
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
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 Luby’s
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
* * *
Like Sunday’s 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
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.
It’s been 50 years since the University of Texas tower shooting – and
the latest violence shows the deadly combination of guns and anger have
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 didn’t 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
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, there’s 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 daughter’s Labrador. Perry was jogging at the
time, but naturally he was packing heat: a .380 Ruger. The gun’s
manufacturer promptly issued a Coyote Special edition of the gun, which
comes in a box labelled ‘for sale to Texans only’.”
* * *
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 McDonald’s 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 town’s
small, busy post office.
Dressed as if for work in his mail carrier’s uniform and carrying three
handguns in his mailbag, he killed 14 and wounded six before shooting
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.
* * *
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 Asperger’s 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.”
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 wasn’t enough, you brats. Your golden
necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your
vodka and cognac weren’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough.
Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.”
* * *
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
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
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
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
* * *
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.
The Texas church shooting will be the fifth-worst in recent history –
and three of the deadliest shootings of the past 35 years have occurred
in the past 18 months
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.
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
59 people, including himself, with nearly 500 hospitalized with injuries
resulting from the incident.
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.
* * *
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 can’t. 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.
/Excerpt/e/d from Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
<http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100460830> by Roxanne
Dunbar-Ortiz, forthcoming from City Lights in January 2018/
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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