When 22 people were killed in El Paso, Texas, and nine more were kill in Dayton, Ohio, roughly 12 hours later, responses to the tragedy included many of the same myths and stereotypes Americans have grown use to hearing in the wake of a mass shooting. As part of my work as a psychology researcher, researcher study mass homicides, as well as society’s reaction to them. A lot of bad information can follow in the wake of such emotional events; clear, data-base discussions of mass homicides can get lost among political narratives.
They’ll admit my surprise, since only last year the Trump administration convene a School Safety Commission; which studied this issue, among many others. Researcher myself testified, and the commission ultimately did not conclude there was sufficient evidence to link games and media to criminal violence. Long-term studies of youth consistently find; so that violent games are not a risk factor for youth violence anywhere from one to eight years later.
Unrelated to crime
Some people suggest mental illness is completely unrelate to crime; but that claim tends to rely on mangled statistics. For instance, they’ve seen the suggestion that individuals; so with mental illness account for just 5% of violent crimes. However, that assertion is base on research like one Swedish study that limit mental illness to psychosis only; which is experience by about 1% or less of the population. If 1% of people commit 5% of crimes, that suggests psychosis elevates risk of crime.
It’s also important to point out that the vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. For instance, in one study, about 15% of people with schizophrenia had committed violent crimes, as compare to 4% of a group of people without schizophrenia. Although this clearly identifies the increase in risk, it also highlights that the majority of people with schizophrenia had not commit violent crimes. It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill, which may reduce their incentive to seek treatment.
News coverage of homicides
Mass homicides get a lot of news coverage which keeps our focus on the frequency of their occurrence. Just how frequent is sometimes muddled by shifting definitions of mass homicide; also confusion with other terms such as active shooter. But using standard definitions, most data suggest that the prevalence of mass shootings has stayed fairly consistent over the past few decades. To be sure, the U.S. has experience many mass homicides. Even stability might be depressing give that rates of other violent crimes have decline precipitously in the U.S. over the past 25 years.
Nonetheless, it does not appear that the U.S. is awash in an epidemic of such crimes, at least comparing to previous decades going back to the 1970s. Mass homicides are horrific tragedies and society must do whatever is possible to understand them fully in order to prevent them. But people also need to separate the data from the myths and the social, political and moral narratives that often form around crime. Only through dispassionate consideration of good data will society understand how best to prevent these crimes.