Mass Shooters Aren’t Disproportionately White Where the myth came from, and what it gets right and wrong about the demographics of mass killings.
By Daniel Engber
“These shooters are almost exclusively coming from a single socio-economic class and racial group,” wrote actor Cole Sprouse in a widely shared Twitter thread. We must now address “what part of whiteness influences this kind of Petri dish for gun violence and killing.”
This wasn’t just a social media phenomenon. The Huffington Post published Sprouse’s tweets as a “Powerful Take on Whiteness and Mass Shootings.” An article in Elle called the link between white men and mass shootings “a general rule” and proposed that “our refusal to confront toxic white male violence is why this problem will metastasize.” The progressive news site ThinkProgress said that “when we talk about mass shootings, we are talking about white men.” Newsweek wondered if “white men commit mass shootings out of a sense of entitlement.” A CNN opinion piece bemoaned the fact that “America has silently accepted the rage of white men.”
In a narrow sense, these stories are correct: The plurality of mass killers are white. But the notion that white men of privilege are disproportionately represented among mass shooters—indeed, that they make up “nearly all” of them—is a myth. …
The Washington Post ran an op-ed titled “White men have much to discuss about mass shootings.” Salon declared that “White male privilege kills.”
What those initial Mother Jones numbers showed, though, was that white people weren’t overrepresented among mass shooters. …
This means the population rate of mass shootings by whites (at least according to the tiny sample measured in the MoJo database) is 0.021 per 100,000 people, while the corresponding rate of mass shootings by blacks is 1.7 times higher, at 0.037.
This disparity, which could be thought of as the statistical non-whiteness of mass shootings, is much smaller in magnitude than the one for killings nationwide. Overall murder rates among black Americans are 6.3 times higher than they are for whites, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The same report suggests white offenders made up just 45.3 percent of everyone who committed homicides between 1980 and 2008. …
The author understates the racial Homicide Gap. Follow the link to this Obama Administration report and find this statement:
“The offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost 8 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000) (table 1).”
That’s a ratio of 7.64 to 1, not 6.3 to 1.
Also, the denominator of “white” in these Bureau of Justice Statistics reports includes most Hispanics. And, black on black homicides tend to have a lower clearance rate than white on white homicides, so the BJS doesn’t count as many black on black killings in its “homicide offenders” counts. A lot of white-on-white homicides are domestics, often murder-suicides, where the clearance rate is high.
The true black to white homicide ratio would be more like ten to one.
In other words, white Americans may be somewhat underrepresented among mass shooters, but they’re even more underrepresented among all killers. In that limited sense, it would be fair to say that whites are responsible for more public massacres than you might expect. Does that mean their whiteness is a factor in these crimes?
We need to bear in mind a distinction between simple mass shootings, as are common in Chicago on warm weekends, where the shooter/shooters intend to get away so they don’t stick around to finish off the wounded, versus Suicidal Mass Shootings where the shooter (or at Columbine or San Bernardino, shooters) don’t care if they survive, so they concentrate on racking up a high kill count.
In a typical Saturday Night on the South Side of Chicago mass shooting, there might be one or two dead and five or ten wounded because the shooter hightailed it out of there. These kind of shootings with a high ratio of wounded to dead typically are carried out by African-Americans upon other African-Americans.
On the other hand, Suicidal Mass Shootings with a high ratio of dead to wounded, tend to be more common among Muslim terrorists, whites, and Asians. American blacks just aren’t very suicidal.
Perhaps African Americans commit a high number of shootings for much the same reasons they have completely monopolized all starting cornerback jobs in the NFL since Jason Sehorn retired more than a dozen years ago: they tend to be quicker, more impulsive, and more violent than other races.
In contrast, whites are more common among the very high death count shootings like in Las Vegas for much the same reasons as why whites continue to dominate at quarterback in the NFL despite a long media campaign to turn the position black like most of the rest of the NFL: whites tend to plan more and more obsessively.
Similarly, whites are over-represented in the numbers of civilians killed-by-police relative to their homicide rates. African-Americans committed about 52.5% of cleared homicides between 1976-2008 according to the Obama Administration, but they only make up about 30% of all those killed by the police.
Whites are over-represented as victims of police shootings probably because they are significantly more suicidal than blacks, and lots of police shootings are suicides-by-cop.
But the higher rate of white and Asian suicidality means that white and Asian suicidal mass shooters are more likely to stick around to finish off their victims even though that means they will die, while black criminals who shoot a bunch of people tend to run off because they don’t want to die, they just wanted to shoot some people who made them mad.
The media finds black-on-black mass shootings by underclass blacks with two digit IQs to be depressing and boring. White guys with 3 digit IQs who plan ahead to maximize the death count even at the cost of their own life are extremely unusual, as are individuals of any group (other than, recently, fundamentalist Sunnis). But they are interesting to the media.