Why Are White Men More Likely To Commit Mass Shootings?

Most mass shooters in the US are white, and almost all are men. That white men, because of gender and racial entitlement, are more likely to kill is unquestioned in the media, and by extension the general public. But does this narrative lack nuance?

The 2010 US census found that whites are 72.4% of the population (74.8% counting mixed race white). Because whites are the majority of the US population one would expect they’d be the majority of gunmen. But that by itself doesn’t establish a racial connection. For that we must show that whites are over-represented among shooters.

Mother Jones ran an article a couple years ago, which they updated on 24 May 2014. Examining 67 mass shootings from 1982 through mid-2012 they found that 44 were committed by white men. Thus, white men are 66% of gunmen.

In other words, whites, at three-quarters of the US population but only two-thirds of mass shooters, are actually under-represented. A helpful Mother Jones pie chart shows us that African-Americans are comparatively represented while Latinos are under-represented. But Asians are significantly over-represented among mass shooters.

A question that comes to mind is: Why do some people falsely claim that whites are more likely to be shooters? What’s their hidden agenda?

Perhaps identity politics play a role. The idea that whites are more likely to kill fits some people’s oppression narratives. That is, the false claim that whites are more likely to commit mass shootings is political opportunism. However, we shouldn’t draw hasty conclusions about Asians being over-represented. Statistical quirks sometimes happen. One must first show causation to draw any conclusion.

Of the 67 shooters, only one was a gunwoman, making men 98.5% of all mass shooters (though recently there was another female shooter).

Here we have a real demographic outlier. That men are more violent than women is obvious. Specifically, though women commit acts of violence often, men’s violence is far more destructive.

Mother Jones also notes that a majority of gunmen had known mental issues, which is another outlier, but one that is uncomfortable to talk about. Indeed, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

One other aspect stands out: failed expectations. Gunmen typically have a grievance, such as a lost job or missed promotion, a failed relationship, or the inability to find a relationship. This is usually described as a sense of entitlement.

And it is. But where does this sense of entitlement come from? The accepted narrative is that men are taught that the world is theirs for the taking, and when the world doesn’t give them what they deserve they must punish those who took what belongs to them.

But this fails to match many men’s experiences. Most boys are taught that they have to earn what they want. Boys are taught that the world doesn’t owe them anything. For males, disrespect is the default position, and respect must be earned. Men who expect it all without having to sacrifice are looked down upon by other men.

In the book Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent describes her year living as a man. It was a social experiment to try and learn about manhood from an insider’s experience. She describes going to a men’s retreat where the men had to draw a picture of how they felt. She was surprised by how many men drew Atlas, the Greek guy carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

She notes that a lot of women scoff at men who say they feel this way. About 15 years ago I took a graduate level social work class. The class was mostly women. One day the students were talking, and a man in his mid-50s explained why he was studying to become a social worker: “I did my duty. I worked the corporate job I hated for 30 years, I paid off the mortgage, put the kids through college, and put money in the 401k. Now I can do the job I always wanted to do.”

It didn’t seem like any of the women really heard what he said. One woman remarked that social work’s low pay didn’t bother her because her boyfriend was a computer science major. But think about this man’s 30 years in a hated corporate job, how it was expected of him, how he had to earn the privilege of being a social worker instead of being allowed to pursue it as a youth as the women were able to do. And then think about Atlas.

It starts with expectations placed on men, what a man must provide for others to become worthy of someone’s love. But it morphs into entitlement in men who believe they’ve done what’s expected of them and therefore have earned what they want. Men who can’t measure up might still believe they’ve earned something (even if they haven’t), and the distortions of mental illness may exacerbate this.