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Why Do Young Assailants Dominate Mass Shootings?

The two young men accused of carrying out massacres in Buffalo and Ulvade followed a familiar path: They legally bought semiautomatic rifles directly after turning 18, posted images to display their strength, and turned those weapons on innocent people. The age of the accused has emerged as a key factor in understanding how two teens became driven to acquire deadly firepower and how it led them to mass shootings, the New York Times reports. They fit in a critical 15 to 25 age range that law enforcement officials, researches and policy experts consider a hazardous crossroads for young men, a period when they experience developmental changes and societal pressures that can turn them towards violence and, in the rarest cases, mass shootings. Six of the nine deadliest shootings in the U.S. since 2018 were by people who were 21 or younger, representing a shift for mass casualty shootings.


There is no single explanation for why young men are more likely to commit mass shootings. Many causes cited by law enforcement officials and academics seem intuitive - online bullying, the increasingly aggressive marketing of guns to boys, lax state gun laws and federal statutes that make it legal to buy a semiautomatic "long gun" at 18. Knox College Prof. Frank McAndrew said almost all of the young killers he has researched were motivated by a need to prove themselves. Over the past two decades, social media and online game platforms have been a place for them to flex what they are doing or plan to do. Biology has a role. It is well known that the teenage and post-teenage period is a critical time for brain development and a time often characterized by aggressive and impulsive behavior. Overall, boys and young men account for half of all homicides nationwide, a percentage that has been steadily rising. Yet, what differentiates mass killers from other young men who do not act on these impulses is hard to define and even harder to counter: madness.

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