The U.S. currently averages one gun-related mass killing every two weeks, with school shootings reported about once every month. With so much violence in the news, it’s only natural to wonder if we’re seeing new trends. Researchers have been studying the numbers, and they’ve found that these shootings can actually be “contagious.”
One research team, led by Sherry Towers, a professor and statistician at Arizona State University, cross-referenced several mass shootings and looked for certain patterns. Among their findings, they observed that about 20 to 30 percent of mass shootings appear to occur in relation to previous shootings. They claim a “contagion period” arises immediately after an event, and that period averages 13 days.
The team was aware that other behaviors, such as teen suicide, could be “contagious” in the right conditions. For example, vulnerable teens are more likely to commit suicide shortly after the suicide of a peer. Just as profound is a phenomenon known as psychogenic illness, also found in young people, which actually causes isolated clusters of psychosomatic illness “caught” merely through peer observation.
Outside the school shooter demographic, perpetrators are usually white, middle-class males between 20 and 50 years old, who feel they are victims to the world, cheated out of what is rightfully theirs. They tend to be depressed, socially isolated, and narcissistic. These features can also prime them to act during the “contagion period.”
Because people who commit these shootings are narcissists, the role media plays in covering them can be huge. These people often seek to make themselves famous through their violent acts, counting on media attention. The American Psychological Association (APA) released a paper seeking the media’s cooperation in keeping mass shooters nameless, with the prediction that less recognition would lead to fewer shootings.
While mass shootings appear to be growing commonplace in the news, some researchers do also question whether more shootings result in more media attention, or if more media attention results in more shootings.
And their warnings extend beyond just the media. They also note a correlation between gun ownership per capita and prevalence of mass shootings: Statistically speaking, the states with the most guns also hold the highest risk of mass shootings.