The Contagion Of Mass Shootings


The Contagion Of Mass Shootings

Fayetteville, AR -( Are mass shootings contagious? Which is to say, does one mass shooting produce another in the manner of a pathogen being transmitted from one infected person to new hosts?

According to New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Miller, interviewed on CBS This Morning, the answer is yes, though things are more complicated than a simple transmission of an idea by itself.

In the same way that epidemics require factors beyond the mere presence of a pathogenic microorganism—in many cases, weather conditions, malnutrition, movement of peoples, and the like—Miller points to the influences that the political atmosphere, the celebration—and I use that word deliberately—of mass killers on television, and various triggering stressors such as a job loss have on someone who is at risk of becoming a killer. This sounds a lot like what happens in domestic violence, and in many cases, mass shooters have a record of abusing people in their immediate lives first. I don’t find this surprising since regardless of whatever motivates mass shooters to act, they feel entitled to murder innocent people to achieve their purposes.

The term, contagion, does describe a real phenomenon. The Newtown shooter, for example, had a fascination with mass shootings, and while delving into the mind of a lunatic killer is difficult, it seems that he was building up a scorecard that he hoped to top. Another name for this is the copycat effect, an outward-directed equivalent of the influence that a suicide that gets media attention can have on people at risk.

The El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio shooters don’t fit this pattern, however, since both prepared their attacks that came within twenty-four hours of each other. The copycat explanation leaves out the factors in society that drive mass shooters independently of what influence one killer has on another. In an interview on The Jimmy Dore Show, journalist Greg Palast discusses the Las Vegas shooter with whom he attended elementary and high school. According to Palast, the disconnect between the future killer’s innate talent for mathematics and the assumption of the school that college track classes would be wasted on poor kids created psychological damage, a sense of hopelessness about who wins and loses in our society. This could sound like psychobabble were it not for the personal histories of mass shooter after mass shooter. Common elements are social isolation, family conflicts, and a sense that what boys grew up thinking masculinity meant has no place in the modern world.

And then there is politics. White nationalism is on the rise and is showing parallels with the development of ISIS, according to Max Fisher in an article for “The Interpreter” column in The New York Times. Both movements have been driven by an apocalyptic dread or glee, alternating depending on the incitement of the moment, that they are the chosen few who must stand against the hordes. And when Donald Trump expresses his amused approval of the idea that we should shoot immigrants coming to this nation, coming as it did after a campaign and more than two years of a presidency filled with veiled threats and proposed policies against minorities, opposition politicians, and the media, it is no surprise that violence against current and former Democratic officeholders and the racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso have followed. And yes, there is violence from the left as well, as the shooting of Republican members of Congress demonstrates, which to my sense of history suggests echoes of the paramilitary groups battling each other in the social collapse in Germany following the First World War.

We are not at that level of violence yet—yet being the keyword there. How much longer yet will last is anyone’s guess. But these mass shootings do demand a national response, and if better answers are not offered, advocates of gun control will gain traction for their demands.

The first thing that needs to happen is for leaders—in the media and in political office—to calm the hell down. I’m all for spirited debate, and singing Kumbaya is a tactic for summer camp, not for making policy, but when the president tells American citizens who are of a different party that they need to go back where they came from—Cincinnati, Detroit, and the Bronx, in the case of three of the four members of Congress he referred to—and jokes about violence against the opposition, we have crossed over from reasoned argument to a street brawl. And I say the same thing to all the people on social media who keep declaring that if I am against banning AR-15s, it can only be for the reason that I value my hobby over the lives of innocents. Yes, freedom of speech includes the right to spew vile opinions, so long as they are not threats of violence or the worst forms of defamation, and that means that we get the level of social discourse that we deserve. I’m not calling for censorship. I’m saying that if we care about the future of the country, we should focus on ideas over our assessment of the people offering them.

My second suggestion is in a similar vein, a request to the news media to provide only the necessary information about killers to explain their actions while refraining from giving those killers the celebratory attention that they crave. For example, we’d probably offend sensibilities to show their bloody corpses after they’ve been put down, and perp walks for killers who survive can look like a stroll down the red carpet to twisted minds, so we should adopt the smartphone emoji option. Have a set of stock cartoons of scrawny losers with a range of colors to match America’s demographics to use whenever an image of the killer is needed in news reports. The Constitution probably doesn’t allow us to impose the walk of shame that is ordered from time to time in Westeros, but news organizations are free to express disapproval of people who murder to gain attention.

Beyond that, we should pay attention to the lesson that Greg Palast is teaching us. A society that guarantees opportunity only to the few is one that is going to experience increasing resentment among the many, and some of the latter will decide that violence is the only solution. Related to this are the bullying and social isolation that are involved in many cases of school shootings. We have a culture in schools that distributes popularity based on ephemeral characteristics such as athletic prowess or physical beauty, rather than lasting merits, one that adults too often permit and sometimes encourage.

But addressing these will feel too slow in a country that is experiencing a spike in mass shootings. Terrorist attacks—and that is what a mass shooting is, an attack to terrorize the population to fulfill the killer’s sick goal—are the most difficult kind of violence to address since the terrorists operate in the shadows until the attack. But as I said above, mass shooters often commit domestic violence in the years leading up to their capital crime. Treating abuse as a serious crime—one that law enforcement will investigate and that prosecutors will take to court and that the sentences upon conviction will be long—would forestall at least some future terror attacks and would reduce an endemic form of violence that affects far more people. Another potential means of stopping mass shootings before they happen is already being used by the Secret Service. When people talk about killing politicians, polite agents in dark suits pay them a visit, not necessarily to arrest them, but to have a chat about what their intentions might actually be. The same procedure could be used with regard to threats of violence against ordinary people.

The advantage that gun control advocates have is that their proposed solutions are easy to describe and would fulfill the demand to “do something” right now. But the world is complex, and hurried answers rarely accomplish anything more than burdening people who weren’t intending to do anything wrong. Law enforcement can act as I’ve outlined for immediate effect, giving us time, if we are willing to use it, to shift the center of gravity of contemporary culture away from violence as a choice that we leap to first, whether in thought or in deed.

About Greg CampGreg Camp

Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.

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Greg, Thanks. Good, cogent article. A voice of reason.

Wild Bill

@Pot, Except that Greg implies that there opportunities only for the few in America (e.g. “… A society that guarantees opportunity only to the few…”). That implication is untrue.

[…] or the like, depending on who’s in the conversation. The fact is that yes, I and others have something that can be done to reduce overall violence and specifically mass shootings. We in the gun […]


Greg sounds what has been teaching at schools.As far as illegals they have no business here.Come legally, then there is no problem. Everything Mr Trump has tried to do has been for the best.Everybody holler about separation of family, what happens to an American when they go to jail, the family damn shore doesn’t go with them, but that’s right we are Americans so the hell with us.It is getting that bad in everything that goes.Ilegals has more rights than Americans. Hell they even voting in different communist states. Then have balls to ask why people think like they do.As… Read more »


Greg, you didn’t consider the real probability that these mass shooters are pawns manipulated by the Deep State factions to perform these horrific acts for the media to use for mass population manipulation against civilian gun ownership. It would be very easy to select, befriend, and “nudge” individuals to do these acts. The government is very adept at running under cover operations against groups and individuals. To ignore the probability is to invite the action. No one will successfully investigate the concept. Each of the events have been surrounded by suspicious circumstances, undocumented allegations, unexplained inconsistencies, improbable occurrences. Yeah, label… Read more »


USA, Bear in mind that weed is still illegal federally and will disqualify you from buying a firearm as a “prohibited person.” Of course, Colorado made marijuana legal and outlawed standard magazines. It could be that the State of Colorado is setting up its population to be disarmed for using a substance that they encouraged.


@Stl_…Very well said! Thank you.


You put blame on the President, you are falling into the lefts talking points. Look at what has been waged against our President even before he was elected. I know of no other who would not have given up by now. You did not mention Antifa who is a very violent group of the lefts for pushing their agenda. You did not mention that illegal immigrants are told if the come here they will get housing free health care and Social Security if eligible. Divide and Conquer. The real point is they are not dumb on the left, they know… Read more »


This essay makes some very good points but also includes many liberal talking points unsupported by facts. There is no known correlation between the alleged lack of opportunity in contemporary America and the rise of hate groups or gun violence. More importantly, the premise is easily refuted. This is still a nation where immigrants come because of the opportunities this country provides. Many immigrants are successful business owners or entrepreneurs. If an immigrant can find opportunity here, why can’t Americans? It’s not lack of opportunity or poverty that motivates terrorism. The 911 terrorists came from middle class families and had… Read more »


Is white nationalism really on the rise, or is this another boogey man created by the left and the media to smear Trump and his supporters. I read an estimate that there are over 1,000 white supremicist groups in the USA. While I have no reason to doubt that’s true, I could not find any estimate on the number of individuals involve. I suspect, given the nature of the internet, many people belong to more than one group. I would really like to see the numbers of people involved for each of the last 10 years. Please don’t get me… Read more »

Wild Bill

A former “War Between the States” nurse, Dorthea Lind Dix, I believe, cared enough about the insane, at a time when no one else did, put together a strong and humane system of insane asylums. Her system was well thought out patient care, but it was expensive. Her system was the standard and worked for about a hundred years. As I recall it was the Civil Liberties Union that shopped around until they found a libtard judge who would rule that the insane could not be detained until they were proved to be a danger to themselves or others. Bureaucrats… Read more »


It is a stretch to consider guns as a disease, but mass murderers being mentally diseased maybe. it seems the under lying catalyst in this is the media. Therefore there should be legal ramifications for media that prompt these actions by the mentally ill. There have been law suites against students that have text other weaker students and pushed them to suicides, correct? So that would not seem to be a far stretch to holding the media accountable for inducing the next mass killing? I’m not saying , but I’m just saying……… If maybe a group of victims thought about… Read more »

Wild Bill

, Please see New York Times v. Sullivan.


I am in full agreement with you. The media no longer employs journalists, they, for the most part, are indoctrinated political pawns.