All sorts of correlations are carefully examined when it comes to mass shooters. But the fact that the largest institution in the United States has trained many of them to shoot is scrupulously avoided.

By David Swanson, Let’s Try Democracy

In the United States, only a very small percentage of men under 60 are military veterans.

In the United States, at least 31% of male mass shooters under 60 (which is almost all mass shooters) are military veterans.

shelter in place road sign in Maine after mass shooting

That’s 40 out of 127 mass shooters in Mother Jones’ database whom I’ve been able to identify as U.S. military veterans, with no help from Mother Jones and darn little help from any media outlets at all. It is very likely that more than those 40 have actually been military veterans.

We now have reports of a U.S. Army reservist who trained others in shooting guns having committed the worst mass shooting in some time.

There is much we do not know about the latest mass shooting in the United States, but of these two things we can be certain:

  1. The U.S. Congress will do nothing to make U.S. gun laws resemble those of a normal nation.
  2. Media outlets will focus on mental health, rightwing politics, and anything other than military experience. There will be a hunt for “motive,” but little interest in ability.

As I reported in June, a University of Maryland report touching on this topic was virtually ignored by media outlets.

But here are the facts:

Looking at males, aged 18-59, veterans are well over twice, maybe over three times as likely to be mass shooters compared with the group as a whole. And they shoot somewhat more fatally. Counting this latest shooting as having 16 fatalities, though that may actually increase, the veteran shooters on this list have killed on average 8.3 people and those who have not been identified as veterans have killed on average 7.2 people.

The numbers have changed slightly since I began writing about this:

All sorts of correlations are carefully examined when it comes to mass shooters. But the fact that the largest institution in the United States has trained many of them to shoot is scrupulously avoided.

Those mass shooters who are not actually military veterans tend to dress and speak as if they were. Some of them are veterans of police forces with military-sounding titles, or have been prison guards or security guards . Counting those who’ve been in either the U.S. military or a police force or a prison or worked as an armed guard of any kind would give us an even larger percentage. The factor of having been trained and employed to shoot is larger than just the military veterans, yet carefully ignored because so many of those professionally trained to shoot have been trained by the U.S. military.

Some of the non-military mass-shooters have worked as civilians for the military. Some have tried to join the military and been rejected. The whole phenomenon of mass-shootings has skyrocketed during the post-2001 endless wars. The militarism of mass-shootings may be too big to see, but the avoidance of the topic is stunning.

Needless to say, out of a country of over 330 million people a database of 127 mass shooters is a very, very small group. Needless to say, statistically, virtually all veterans are not mass shooters. But that can hardly be the reason for not a single news article ever mentioning that mass shooters are very disproportinately likely to be veterans. After all, statistically, virtually all males, mentally ill people, domestic abusers, Nazi-sympathizers, loners, and gun-purchasers are also not mass-shooters. Yet articles on those topics proliferate like NRA campaign bribes.

There seem to me to be two key reasons that a sane communications system would not censor this topic. First, our public dollars and elected officials are training and conditioning huge numbers of people to kill, sending them abroad to kill, thanking them for the “service,” praising and rewarding them for killing, and then some of them are killing where it is not acceptable. This is not a chance correlation, but a factor with a clear connection.

Second, by devoting so much of our government to organized killing, and even allowing the military to train in schools, and to develop video games and Hollywood movies, we’ve created a culture in which people imagine that militarism is praiseworthy, that violence solves problems, and that revenge is one of the highest values. Virtually every mass shooter has used military weaponry. Most of those whose dress we are aware of dressed as if in the military. Those who’ve left behind writings that have been made public have tended to write as if they were taking part in a war. So, while it might surprise many people to find out how many mass shooters are veterans of the military, it might be hard to find mass shooters (actual veterans or not) who did not themselves think they were soldiers.

There seems to me to be one most likely reason that it’s difficult to find out which shooters have been in the military (meaning that some additional shooters probably have been, about whom I’ve been unable to learn that fact). We’ve developed a culture dedicated to praising and glorifying participation in war. It need not even be a conscious decision, but a journalist convinced that militarism is laudable would assume it was irrelevant to a report on a mass shooter and, in addition, assume that it was distasteful to mention that the man was a veteran. That sort of widespread self-censorship is the only possible explanation for the complete whiting out of this story.

The phenomenon of shutting down this story does not exactly require a “motive,” and I would like to recommend to reporters on mass shootings that they, too, devote a bit less energy to the often meaningless hunt for “a motive,” and a tad more to considering whether the fact that a shooter lived and breathed in an institution dedicated to mass shooting might be relevant.