With two mass shootings in the space of 12 hours – first Saturday’s massacre at an El Paso Wal-Mart that left 20 dead and 26 wounded, and then the shooting spree outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine and injured 27 – pundits are already acting like they understand both the problem and the solution.
Some are irresponsible opportunists, like Democratic presidential candidate and El Paso native Robert “Beto” O’Rourke who stood before TV cameras and blamed President Donald Trump for the carnage, cravenly politicizing the catastrophe even before the bloody, mangled, brains-splattered-everywhere bodies had been removed from the Wal-Mart crime scene. Other more restrained and responsible voices have been citing the usual suspects– semi-automatic firearms, mental illness, “manifestos,” narcissism, social media, the desire for fame and so on.
But in light of the close proximity of these two most recent mass shootings, as well as the mass shooting just six days earlier, at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, resulting in three dead (plus the shooter) and 12 injured, consider the problem from a different vantage point – one that casts the growing incidence of mass-shootings in terms of “contagion.” Or in more everyday terms, the “copycat crime” effect.
It’s not a matter of speculation
In a 2015 peer-reviewed study titled “Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings,” published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, researchers concluded that many mass shootings are triggered by other similar attacks, especially very recent ones:
We find significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are incented by similar events in the immediate past. On average, this temporary increase in probability lasts 13 days … We also find significant evidence of contagion in school shootings, for which an incident is contagious for an average of 13 days … On average, mass killings involving firearms occur approximately every two weeks in the U.S., while school shootings occur on average monthly.
As documented in a comprehensive report, during a one-week window after the February 2018 mass-shooting in Parkland, Florida, police across America stopped dozens of threatened copycat school shootings before they happened.
“The copycat phenomenon is real,” confirmed Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in 2014. “As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks.”
The reality of copycat crimes, of course, is not new. Examples abound throughout history, from Jack the Ripper imitators to the 1980’s “Tylenol murders” that initially resulted in seven deaths, but were followed by hundreds of copycat incidents.
Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza was enthralled with mass murderers, researching multiple-fatality shootings going back to 1891, and maintained a wall of infamous shooters. As reported by the Daily Mail, the investigative book, “Newtown: An American Tragedy” by Matthes Lysiak, revealed that Lanza was not only addicted to violent videogames, having “notched up more than 83,000 ‘kills’ on his beloved video games including 22,000 ‘head shots’ as he trained himself for the horrific Sandy Hook massacre,” but had “also became fixated with researching mass killers, and spent hours poring over their Wikipedia entries, updating some.”
Likewise, jihad – the Islamic variety of mass-murder madness – has proven so susceptible to the copycat phenomenon that imitation may be the single most important factor involved, especially since jihad cheerleaders and recruiters encourage precisely that.
Thus, after the November 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130, including 89 at the Bataclan Theater, concern over copycats prompted the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to send an urgent overnight bulletin to 18,000 local law enforcement agencies across America warning them to “be on the lookout for suspicious people conducting surveillance on soft targets in the United States.” Lone-wolf or self-radicalized terrorists, the feds warned, “could seek to replicate the effects of the Paris attacks.”
The FBI’s fears were well-founded. A few months later, in July 2016, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel killed 86 people and wounded at least 430 others by driving a 19-ton truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the southern French city of Nice.
After ISIS claimed responsibility and praised the mass murderer as a “soldier of the Islamic State,” a wave of copycat vehicular attacks followed around the world – including major incidents in Vienna, Berlin, London, Antwerp, Stockholm, Paris, Barcelona and Edmonton, as well as a driving-stabbing attack in the U.S. at Ohio State University.