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Older Mass Shooters Like The California Gunmen Are Rare

The gunmen in the recent shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, were both senior citizens, an unusual profile for perpetrators of violent crimes, according to Vox. The Monterey Park gunman, who killed 11 and injured nine before fatally shooting himself, was 72. The Half Moon Bay gunman, who killed seven people before he was arrested in what police have characterized as an act of workplace violence, is 66. Mass shooters of that age are rare, especially those with no prior criminal record, as was the case with the Half Moon Bay gunman. The Monterey Park gunman had one arrest in 1990 for illegal possession of a firearm. According the National Institute of Justice, mass shooters between 1966 and 2021 were on average 34 years old, and those over the age of 60 accounted for a little over three percent of all mass shootings. The notion that people “age out of crime” is one of the most well-documented phenomena in the field of criminology. The California shootings should be seen as exceptions to that principle, not as nullifying examples, says Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project, which advocates for criminal justice reform. Research has repeatedly shown that criminal activity increases throughout teen years, reaches its highest point at age 17, the oldest that someone can be charged with a juvenile crime, and subsides after that. Even chronic offenders would be statistically likely to stop committing crimes by around the age of 40, Nellis said. However, both gunmen in the California shootings buck the archetype of a violent criminal, and their motives still aren’t entirely clear.


Though age can sometimes factor into the decision to impose a less harsh sentence on young offenders, the Half Moon Bay shooter’s advanced age won’t have any bearing on the length of his sentence. He will be charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders and sentencing enhancements for each count because of his use of a firearm, the San Mateo County district attorney said Wednesday. If convicted, he could be facing up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Life sentences without parole have become increasingly common in the U.S. over the last few decades. Nellis argues the age of older offenders like the Half Moon Bay shooter should be considered a mitigating factor when making sentencing decisions, especially given that the use of executive clemency to release them early has become nonexistent report. Recidivism is unlikely among older people, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission, and keeping them in prison comes at a high taxpayer cost, which includes health care bills that balloon at the end of life.

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