History of mass shootings

Apparently the Orlando shooter Mateen had a chilling history that included talking about killing people, beating his former wife and voicing hatred of minorities, gays and Jews. In fact, most of his victims were gay, Latino, or both. Some term the mass shooting as a homophobic hate crime

Headline making stories throughout the past three years have centered on incidents involving the violent episodes of the active shooter. So far, all the active shooters have been male, the most number of killing sprees originating in America. Many people have not been able to grasp this sudden outburst of rage and mass murder. The background of each shooter remains complex. The crime scenes are also complex, especially from a law enforcer’s view point, as it is always a direct threat to unarmed civilians.

The FBI has classified an active shooter as “an individual engaged in killing people in a confined or populated area.” The first part of this profile clearly shows that the shooter always operates alone. He does not plan his mission with anyone. He is willing to take the full credit and risk for his diabolic crime. Secondly, his selection of ‘soft targets’ is always a venue where there are people.

The shooter wants a public display. Often such soft targets are schools, mega malls, railway stations and public parks. These places have limited security and often the security officer is not legally empowered to use a firearm and counter attack. The only effective response to such a threat is the rapid response of Police within minutes to the scene of confrontation, a difficult challenge in any country. The shooter always uses a semi or fully automatic weapon.

Mindset of the shooter
The active shooter has a complex set of behaviour which is hard to understand. Somehow, they never arouse the suspicion of their family members, co-workers or friends. Many of the shooters have been gainfully employed. Some played sports. Others had relaxing hobbies such as fishing.

The active shooter does not fit into the general pattern of a mass murderer or Serial killer. A serial killer commits a prolonged crime spree, yet operates in low profile, hunting his victims one at a time. In contrast the active shooter makes a ‘one time encounter’ in a compressed time frame.

He does not shoot to reign over territory as in a gang related shootout. The serial killer hides the corpse but the active shooter wants fame for his slaughter. Another interesting point is that the active shooter does not want to hide or escape. He comes prepared for a shootout with the Police or any one responding to him. He wants publicity. Often the shooter will post a brief homemade video on YouTube or Face book, minutes before the attack (but will not disclose the chosen target) trying to justify his actions.
The serial killer enjoys the horror he inflicts on his victims, but for the active shooter his victims have no meaningful connection. They fatefully happen to be at the venue.

Psychologically the serial killer is a person who has undergone physical or emotional abuse over a long time period (few years). He then chooses to vent his revenge on his single victims from time to time, evading arrest. In contrast, the active shooter is a victim of bullying. He is emotionally displaced by one incident that may trigger the need for mass revenge, being bullied at university or workplace, for example.

Some active shooters are mildly similar in their rationale and thinking to an Ideological Killer. The ideological murderer is a person who is strongly infused with extreme patterns of ethico-political or religious orthodoxy. Apparently the Orlando shooter Mateen had a chilling history that included talking about killing people, beating his former wife and voicing hatred of minorities, gays and Jews. In fact, most of his victims were gay, Latino, or both. Some term the mass shooting as a homophobic hate crime.

They attribute their deviant actions to religious or political teachings which they have really misinterpretend. Most loners committing subversive actions come under this category. The Oklahoma City bombing is a prime example of this kind of mindset, where 168 lives were lost within a few seconds. The ideological killer has a strong adherence to his belief. Yet, the active shooter’s motive is always personal. The ideological maniac kills from a distance often detonating an explosive and eludes capture. Being in the centre of the crime scene and putting his name in the news is the desire of the lone shooter.

Rapid response
It was the rapid response of an off-duty cop that probably saved the most lives in the most recent Orlando shooting, as the SWAT team was a good few minutes behind. Given the sudden outburst of this kind of carnage, the Police face a difficult challenge in responding to an active shooter. Often the people being shot at may not have access to a phone. Even if they carried a mobile phone they would not be in a safe position to dial for help. The shooter takes a glorified stance as his innocent victims are often pleading for their lives. He will not negotiate with Police.

Another point to note is that 40 percent of such lone gunmen were shot and killed by Police and 46 percent shot themselves in an act of public suicide.

In the Sri Lankan context, we have not yet witnessed such a shootout. Yet we cannot undermine the impending threat in the future. Over the past decade the Police have upgraded their response and tactical capabilities.

Twenty-nine-year-old Omar Mateen stormed a gay nightclub in Florida last week where he shot more than 100 people, leaving 49 dead and another 53 wounded. What happened in Orlando is the deadliest of the 178 public mass shootings since the early 1900s, deadlier than even the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, which left 33 people dead, including the shooter.

Minnesota Department of Corrections, Director of Research and Evaluation, Grant Duwe observes that, Before 1900, most mass murders were perpetrated by the ‘haves’ against the ‘have nots’. After 1900, mass murders began being perpetrated by the ‘have nots’ against the ‘haves’. Another difference is that before the 20th century, few mass murders were perpetrated by a single person.

But what mass shootings are not restricted to US, world history is peppered with rampage killings across the world.

Total deaths since 1900s