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Despite Warning Signs, It's 'Not Possible' To Predict Mass Killings

The horror of mass shootings in schools, churches and other public places capture the nation's attention. These are only part of the larger violence of mass killings – deaths by guns, knives, fires, vehicles and other weapons in public and in private – that plague the U.S., USA Today reports.

Over the past decade, the newspaper, Northeastern University and the Associated Press has been tracking all mass killings in the U.S. The database is narrower than other tracking sites, such as the Gun Violence Archive, that include shootings that injure large numbers of people but kill no one.

The joint database includes every mass killing since 2006 from all weapons in which four or more people, excluding the offender, were killed within a 24-hour time frame.

The number of mass killings this year is about average compared with previous years despite recent shootings that captured public attention. The number of victims is somewhat higher than average butl below previous highs.

Cases in which someone shoots strangers in a public place get the most attention but are a small fraction of all mass killings. There has been a spike in these types of killings over the past few years, but the rate of occurrence has remained relatively flat since the mid-2000s.

“A guy who kills his wife and children and sometimes kills himself is the most common type of mass killing,” says criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University. Mass killings take place far more often in private homes than in schools, markets or churches.

Semiautomatic handguns are far more common in mass killings than guns typically classified as assault weapons. Fox says handguns are easily concealable and some can be equipped with large-capacity magazines. In this database, the long guns category includes any gun larger than a handgun, including rifles and shotguns.

Mass killers typically target certain people for a number of specific reasons, including a specific event like the end of relationship or loss of a job. Mass killings are rarely indiscriminate. Perpetrators usually plan their assaults for days, weeks or months.

“In the aftermath of a mass killing ... missed warning signs become crystal-clear when hindsight is 20/20,” Fox said. “It is really not possible to predict in a reliable way those who will commit a mass killing.”

“One misconception is that they are easy to spot, that a mass killer looks like mass killers are supposed to look,” Fox said. “But that’s not the case. They oftentimes are extraordinarily ordinary, you wouldn’t suspect.”


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