The Myth of the White Mass Murderer

Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

Every time a mass shooting occurs–either carried out or attempted–there is one of two outcomes. If the perpetrator is non-white, then it disappears from view. If the perpetrator is white, then it is used to indicted whites as being more violent than any other group. For instance, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting this became the talk of the internet:


We need not focus on the fact that the author is a D-list actor with no life experience outside the world make believe to recognize the raw bigotry and, dare I say, self-hatred involved in this tweet. Substitute any other racial or ethnic group in this puerile rant and young Sprouse would find himself hounded from Hollywood, if not from California. This was not a standalone item. It was augmented by various other outlets.

Huffington Post. “Powerful Take on Whiteness and Mass Shootings.”

Elle. If You Don’t Think Stephen Paddock “Fits the Mass Shooter Profile,” You Haven’t Been Paying Attention.

ThinkProgress. When we talk about mass shootings, we are talking about white men.


CNN. How America has silently accepted the rage of white men.

Still, we need to ask if it is true. Fortunately, there is a thing called “data” out there which contains “facts.” So it is fairly easy to see these claims add up (for what follows I owe a huge hat tip to Slate’s Daniel Engber.)

Engber looks at the available data and calls bullsh** on this internet meme.


The myth began to spread in July 2012 after a 24-year-old white man, James Holmes, murdered 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. That summer, a team of researchers at Mother Jones put together a database of rampages in public settings. Among the 62 cases (and 64 total perpetrators) the team reviewed—instances dating back to 1982, in which at least four people had been killed in a public place—44 of the killers were white men and one was a white woman. In total, about 70 percent of the perpetrators in the database were white.

According to the Census Bureau, whites were 74% of the population in 2012.

Since 2012, Mother Jones has added 29 more mass-shooting events to its database (and tweaked its definition of the crime to fit with new federal guidelines that placed the threshold at three victims instead of four). In this bigger data set, the proportion of white mass shooters drops down to 56 percent, by my count.

In 2016, whites made up 76.9 of the United States of which 61.3% were non-Hispanic whites.

Two years ago, University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford took a closer look at these and related questions. His research started from the common claim that “mass murders and mass shooters are different from most criminals in the United States, because they are almost always white.” After rooting through the scholarly literature, Lankford says he could not find a single empirical study of the race and ethnicity of mass murderers. To make up for this gap, he analyzed a database of mass killings from the years 2006 to 2012 compiled by USA Today. Then he compared the race and ethnicity of the 308 killers in that database to those of 87,000 other U.S. killers, using data from the FBI.

…With that said, Lankford found that the USA Today data showed there was no difference between the whiteness of mass murderers and of murderers overall. (Whites made up 37.9 percent and 36.5 percent of those groups, respectively.)


This whole exercise is part of a campaign to make mass shootings the unique province of white, gun-owning males. If fits nicely with the leftwing narrative of white privilege and the whole idea of “wokeness.” In fact, some are using the ‘white mass murderer’ meme to label the entire Second Amendment, and inevitably it supporters, as racist. For instance: Maher nails why only white people get away with gun violence: If you can’t see it ‘you’re probably racist’

Maher went on to quote Garry Wills, who outlined the racist history of the Second Amendment, in an annotated version of the U.S. Constitution. Wills explained that the amendment was to help arm a militia to prevent an uprising of black slaves.

Ford said that his solution is that we need to look at ammunition. He noted comedians have made jokes about it but he would like to see the cost of ammunition increase. He doesn’t see any solution that would stop people from owning guns.

Next semester it will be taught by a gender studies professor at a campus near you.


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