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Mass Shooting Risk Factors Examined in New Study


Whenever a mass shooting occurs, such as the recent Tucson tragedy involving Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen other people, or at Columbine, there are often more questions than answers about the shooters. A new study from Michigan State University discusses the risk factors potentially involved when a student becomes a mass killer.

Many factors can influence a mass killer

Authors of the Michigan study evaluated the risk factors associated with the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings by 23-year-old student Seung-Hui Cho during which 33 people, including Cho, lost their lives. The researchers present a multifaceted picture of contributing elements that include family, culture, school, friends, and community services.

According to Hyunkag Cho, an assistant professor of social work at Michigan State University, who is not related to the shooter, a factor in the Virginia Tech could have been cultural, as the gunman allegedly had been taunted because of his poor English and he may have had difficulties accessing mental health services.

The professor noted that even though the media, researchers, politicians, and others attempt to explain what drives individuals to perform such heinous acts, “we are not united in our understanding of the risk factors, particularly those relevant to racial minorities and immigrants.”

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In addition, Cho explained that many of the risk factors are universal to mass shootings in the United States, including the fact that males are more likely than females to believe that violence is the way to resolve conflicts, easy access to guns, and the wide exposure to gun violence in the media.

Noting that “it takes an entire village to raise a child,” Cho and his colleagues made several recommendations about how to help prevent mass shootings. These include

  • Providing more education for school personnel and parents about the early warning signs of distorted gender images and misconceptions about mental health needs
  • Strengthening multicultural curricula in classrooms, which may improve connectedness among minority students and reduce victimization
  • A systematic reporting system for bullying in schools
  • Improved social services to help immigrant youth and their families cope

Numerous studies have noted the effects of bullying, for example, on students, and the impact includes both emotional and long-term physical illness. A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported on cyber bullying and that the degree of depression associated with being tormented online or via cell phones can be “toxic.”

Cho noted that even though some people may be predisposed to violence, including the possibility of a mass shooting, “Every person has their own responsibility to do whatever they can to prevent or reduce this kind of problem” by recognizing and acting on the risk factors.

Michigan State University