Myth No. 5
Mass shootings are random.
High-profile tragedies like those in Las Vegas, where a motive has yet to emerge, and in Aurora, Colo., tend to support the popular notion that mass shootings are random — that there’s no connection between the killers and the targets. “Another day, another massacre, and once again it’s a gunman targeting strangers in a public place for no obvious reason,” read one Washington Post article on a mass shooting at a Louisiana movie theater in 2015.
But most mass shootings are directed at a specific person, group or institution against which the perpetrator has a grievance. A Huffington Post analysis of mass shootings — which the FBI defines as four or more people killed with a firearm, not including the perpetrator — between 2009 and July 2015 found that 57 percent of the incidents involved a perpetrator’s current or former intimate partner or a family member, and 70 percent occurred in private dwellings.
While mass shootings in public spaces that kill and wound dozens or even hundreds of people receive plenty of media attention, smaller-scale gun violence occurs with far too much regularity in the United States, claiming nearly 100 lives every day. Most killers, including those who perpetrate mass shootings, aren’t trying to murder strangers but are targeting people they know well.