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New DOJ Data Shows Key Factor School Shooters Have in Common

AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Data recently released from the National Institute of Justice, which sits under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, shows nearly all school shooters were suicidal at the time they carried out their crimes. 


"Suicidality was found to be a strong predictor of perpetration of mass shootings. Of all mass shooters in the The Violence Project database, 30% were suicidal prior to the shooting. An additional 39% were suicidal during the shooting. Those numbers were significantly higher for younger shooters, with K-12 students who engaged in mass shootings found to be suicidal in 92% of instances and college/university students who engaged in mass shooting suicidal 100% of the time," the data shows. "Trauma was a common element of the backgrounds of those committing mass shooting, both in the database and the qualitative studies. Early intervention through school-based services may be a key component of early prevention." 

Nearly half of mass shooters issued a warning before committing their crimes. 

"Forty-eight percent leaked their plans in advance to others, including family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as strangers and law enforcement officers. Legacy tokens, such as manifestos, were left behind by 23.4% of those who committed mass shootings. About 70% of individuals who perpetrated mass shooting knew at least some of their victims. In particular, K-12 school and workplace shooters were “insiders” — current or former students and employees," the study found. 

The data was obtained from a study of mass shootings between 1966 and 2019 in the United States. It was released in February 2022. 

"Persons who committed public mass shootings in the U.S. over the last half century were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents, nearly always in a state of crisis at the time, and, in most cases, engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire. Most were insiders of a targeted institution, such as an employee or student. Except for young school shooters who stole the guns from family members, most used legally obtained handguns in those shootings," NIJ states. 


The study also found that the vast majority of mass shootings are carried out with handguns. 

"Notably, most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2%), and 25.1% used assault rifles in the commission of their crimes. Of the known mass shooting cases (32.5% of cases could not be confirmed), 77% of those who engaged in mass shootings purchased at least some of their guns legally, while illegal purchases were made by 13% of those committing mass shootings. In cases involving K-12 school shootings, over 80% of individuals who engaged in shootings stole guns from family members," NIJ found. 

Meanwhile, negotiations over gun control – including a ban on semi-automatic rifles – are ongoing on Capitol Hill. 

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