Over at the Washington Post, two “researchers and consultants on social and political issues” argue that American mass shooters are overwhelmingly white males, and that consequently the opinions of white males on what to do about mass shootings should be discounted.
They are correct that the demographics of mass shooters are interesting — certainly, mass shooters differ from other murderers (and from the general population) in various ways. But mass shooters are not as overwhelmingly white as the authors imply, and the conclusions they draw are utterly bizarre.
Frankly, the authors don’t seem to have a very good grasp of the situation. They list Fort Hood — the massacre committed by a pale-skinned guy of Palestinian descent named Nidal Hasan while yelling “Allahu Akbar” — as a white-male rampage. They say that “immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters,” which might be true, but only because Korean immigrant Seung-Hui Cho targeted a school and Laotian immigrant Chai Vang killed six hunters in the woods.
Nowhere do the authors give the only two numbers that matter: the percentage of mass shootings committed by white males, and the percentage of mass shootings we might normally expect to be committed by white males.
According to liberal journalist David Sirota, “70 percent of mass shooters have been white men in a country where only 30 percent of the population is white men.” Of course, anyone who isn’t a liberal journalist realizes that this has a lot more to do with maleness than with whiteness — a better way to put it is that 70 percent of mass shooters are white males in a country where about 60 percent of potential mass shooters (i.e., males) are white. That’s not exactly a huge discrepancy.
And regardless of the exact degree of the disparity, how should we handle it? Here’s what the authors think we’d do if the shooters were black, and they see this as a model for how we should treat white men:
Imagine if African American men and boys were committing mass shootings month after month, year after year. Articles and interviews would flood the media, and we’d have political debates demanding that African Americans be “held accountable.” Then, if an atrocity such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings took place and African American male leaders held a news conference to offer solutions, their credibility would be questionable. The public would tell these leaders that they need to focus on problems in their own culture and communities.
Yes, the idea here is that when it comes to race and crime, Americans frankly assess the numbers and demand racial accountability — except when the criminals are white. I’m not sure this even deserves a response, but let’s take a simple look at the numbers on murder in general. Blacks are dramatically overrepresented. Has anyone demanded that blacks as a group, not just the individual murderers, be “held accountable”? Has anyone said that black organizations that suggest ways of reducing violence should be scrutinized more heavily than non-black groups that similarly offer solutions? Of course not.
And that’s a good thing — we shouldn’t ignore racial disparities, but we shouldn’t shun entire groups based on statistical trends, either.