The Labor Day weekend mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, is just the latest in a string of shootings that establish a clear pattern and profile.
Like the majority of those who have carried out mass shootings across the country, the 36-year-old who killed seven people and wounded 22 more in Odessa was a white male. And while the FBI has resisted using the word profile in describing such shooters, a June 2018 FBI study of “active shooters” over a 13-year period found that 63% of them were white, 94% of them were male, and all of them displayed four or five “concerning behaviors” in the year before they went on a rampage.
Instead of viewing such data with skepticism, we must acknowledge that white males are responsible for the majority of mass shootings in America. We must recognize that such shooters tend to fit a specific pattern of behavior. We must treat potential mass shooters like we treat everyone else in America.
To be blunt, it’s time to start profiling white men.
I know America has a hard time dealing with the reality that young-to-middle-age white men with ready access to firearms and a history of recent struggles are the ones most likely to carry out mass shootings. But if we’re ever going to stop the kind of indiscriminate gun violence we’re seeing, we have to be willing to acknowledge what the data tells us.
But even if America begins the process of monitoring and stopping the white men most likely to become mass shooters, it should extend white men the kind of grace that isn’t offered to other groups.
We should acknowledge that not all white men are alike.
Not every white man is poised to shoot dozens of people, including a baby, in Odessa. Nor is every white man preparing to drive 10 hours to shoot immigrants in El Paso. Most white men aren’t booking a hotel room on the 26th floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas to kill 58 people at a country music concert.
I don’t want to see white men prejudged as criminals the way black men are when white women clutch their pocketbooks on elevators. I don’t want to see white men subjected to “random” individual checks in airport security, the way Arabs are whenever they travel. I don’t want to see white men stopped under the assumption that they are illegal immigrants, the way Latinos are whenever they travel in certain communities.
Still, if America is going to stop mass shootings, we’ll have to be more diligent in monitoring white men.
Because ignoring the telltale signs that someone is preparing to carry out a mass shooting can be a deadly mistake. That much is clear when one reviews the data in that June 2018 study of the pre-attack behaviors of active shooters.
The data are fascinating. They indicate that most mass shooters are dealing with multiple stressors in the year leading up to the attack, and that they don’t tend to deal with those stressors well.
The common thread for many of the shooters in the FBI study was mental health. Most commonly, the shooters were struggling with depression, anxiety, or paranoia in the time leading up to the attack. And in most cases, the study said, the people around them could see their behavior changing.
In response to “problematic interpersonal interactions and leakage of violent intent,” the study said, those around them would most often respond by speaking directly to them.
The second most common response was to do nothing.