Nav: Home

Studies on mass shootings assess trends, gauge effectiveness, and recommend policies

February 06, 2020

In the last decade, thousands have been killed or injured as a result of mass violence in the United States. Such acts take many forms, including family massacres, terrorist attacks, shootings, and gang violence. Yet it is indiscriminate mass public shootings, often directed at strangers, that has generated the most public alarm.

Now, 41 scholars have contributed 16 articles on the topic to a special issue of Criminology & Public Policy (CPP), the flagship policy journal of the American Society of Criminology. The articles assess trends in mass violence and gauge the effectiveness of measures to prevent instances of mass shootings and reduce their lethality. The issue also includes research-based policy recommendations to limit the harm from such violence.

"There are no easy solutions or quick fixes for these horrific events," according to Daniel Nagin, who co-organized the special issue with Christopher Koper and Cynthia Lum, Chief Editors of CPP. "However, there are measures we can take to limit the harm and damage caused by these violent incidents, as well as prevent some shootings from ever taking place. Most of these recommendations require legislative action at the federal and state levels."

New findings from the studies include:
  • Public mass shootings in the U.S. have become more common and deadly in the last decade: More public mass shooters are motivated to kill large numbers for fame or attention, and experts recommend that the media limit their coverage of shooters to discourage copycats.

  • Mental illness plays less of a role in violence than assumed: Policies that assume serious mental illness causes mass shootings do little to prevent them and subject millions of nonviolent people with mental illness to stigma and unwarranted social control.

  • Threat assessments can help prevent violence: Threat assessments using multidisciplinary teams of law enforcement, legal, and mental health experts have been used successfully in schools and recommended for other environments as a feasible prevention strategy. Yet they have not been adopted nationwide, and social awareness campaigns are needed to encourage reluctant bystanders and family members to report suspicious behaviors.

  • Gun laws can reduce mass shootings: Mass shootings committed with high capacity semiautomatic firearms result in substantially more deaths and injuries than do attacks with other firearms. States with restrictions on large capacity ammunition magazines have fewer mass shooting deaths, as do states requiring firearm purchasers to be licensed through a background check process.

  • Gun violence restraining orders, or "red flag" laws, provide a way to temporarily disarm high-risk individuals: Preliminary research in California suggests that other efforts to identify and disarm high-risk and illegal gun owners may also hold promise.

  • Restrictions on gun owners involved in domestic violence may prevent access to firearms for some potential mass shooters: Restrictions can help only if they are obtained through criminal convictions or restraining orders, and only if the firearm restrictions are actually enforced.

  • Situational crime-prevention strategies should be tested to see if they can prevent public mass violence: Settings can be identified that are at risk of being attacked, leading to more interventions to prevent such attacks or mitigate their harm.

  • Enhanced response to mass shootings can reduce death and disability: By taking a series of evidence-based steps, hospitals, emergency medical teams, police, and the public can lessen the chances that individuals who are injured will be disabled or die.

  • More research and effort are needed: The special issue also addresses using machine learning techniques to identify potential mass shooters, using the Internet and social media to study preventing and responding to mass violence, and the need to develop more comprehensive data systems for studying mass violence.
Based on these and other findings in this special issue, Nagin, Koper, and Lum offer the following policy recommendations:

1. Staunch the growth of high-capacity firearms.
2. Curtail access to firearms for dangerous individuals by strengthening background checks for gun buyers, and by instituting extreme risk protection orders, stronger restrictions for domestic violence offenders, and other measures.
3. Improve threat-detection systems through more widespread use of threat-assessment teams, public education campaigns, and social media analysis.
4. Expand training, education, and awareness for first responders, trauma centers, and the public on tactics and strategies that can reduce fatalities when an event occurs.
5. Launch a federally supported effort to formally track mass casualty incidents to support in-depth research and evaluation.
Summarized from the February 2020 special issue on mass violence of Criminology & Public Policy, which came from an April 11-12, 2019, workshop organized by the authors and funded by the National Science Foundation's Law and Social Science Program. Copyright 2020 The American Society of Criminology. All rights reserved.

Crime and Justice Research Alliance

Related Mental Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: Mental health problems persist in adolescents five years after bariatric surgery despite substantial weight loss
Five years after weight-loss surgery, despite small improvements in self-esteem and moderate improvements in binge eating, adolescents did not see improvements in their overall mental health, compared to peers who received conventional obesity treatment, according to a study in Sweden with 161 participants aged 13-18 years published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
Cigarette smoke damages our mental health, too
The researchers found that students who smoked had rates of clinical depression that were twice to three times higher than did their non-smoking peers.
Many in LA jails could be diverted into mental health treatment
The largest mental health facilities in the US are now county jails, with an estimated 15% of men and 31% of women who are incarcerated in jails nationally having a serious and persistent mental disorder.
The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: Mental health harms related to very frequent social media use in girls might be due to exposure to cyberbullying, loss of sleep or reduced physical activity
Very frequent use of social media may compromise teenage girls' mental health by increasing exposure to bullying and reducing sleep and physical exercise, according to an observational study of almost 10,000 adolescents aged 13-16 years studied over three years in England between 2013-2015, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
Can Facebook improve your mental health?
Contrary to popular belief, using social media and the internet regularly could improve mental health among adults and help fend off serious psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, finds a new Michigan State University study.
A gut feeling for mental health
The first population-level study on the link between gut bacteria and mental health identifies specific gut bacteria linked to depression and provides evidence that a wide range of gut bacteria can produce neuroactive compounds.
Mental health care increasing most among those with less distress
A new study shows that more Americans are getting outpatient mental health care and the rate of serious psychological distress is decreasing.
On-again, off-again relationships might be toxic for mental health
A researcher from the University of Missouri says that the pattern of breaking up and getting back together can impact an individual's mental health and not for the better.
Could mental health apps lead to overdiagnosis?
Mental health app marketing commonly presents mental health problems as ubiquitous and individuals as responsible for mental wellbeing; overdiagnosis and denial of the social factors related to mental health could result.
More Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at