Published: March 26, 2021
[Pew Research Center determined in 2017 that 7% of U.S. adults were veterans and less than 1% were active military personnel. Click here to read the Pew report.]
by David Swanson (3/23/2021)
It is extremely easy in the United States to obtain guns, to find places to practice using them, and to find trainers willing to teach you to use them. There’s no need to have any contact with the U.S. military in order to dress and act as if you’re in the military, as many mass-shooters do, some of them waging their own delusional wars against immigrants or other groups. But it is remarkable that at least 36% of U.S. mass shooters (and quite possibly more) have in fact been trained by the U.S. military.
It is equally remarkable that, although I’ve been updating and writing about this topic for years, it is virtually whited-out from U.S. media. In reports on individual mass shootings, any mention of involvement with the U.S. military is usually a minor footnote. In many cases, I simply do not know, with my very limited research, whether a mass shooter is a military veteran or not. This is why my figure of 36% could be low. Regarding patterns in mass-shootings, media reports tell us, as well they should, about access to guns, types of guns, criminal records, mental health records, misogyny, racism, age, sex, and other features of shooters’ backgrounds. If mass shooters were at all disproportionately red-headed, homosexual, vegan, left-handed, or basketball fans we would damn well know it. Its relevance would be mysterious, but we’d know it. Yet the fact that well over a third of them, and maybe more, have been professionally trained in killing is unmentionable, despite its obvious relevance and the supposed cultural value of “following the science” wherever it may lead.
We are regularly informed that mass shooters are mostly male, without any panic over the possibility of fueling hatred of men, the vast majority of whom are not mass shooters, and most of whom would rather die than become mass shooters. We are routinely told that mass shooters owned and liked guns, that they had mental health issues, and that they were loners, without the slightest hesitation over whether we might be generating a prejudice against gun owners or mental health patients or introverts. We are generally aware that most people are not utter imbeciles, that most people will catch on — even unprompted — to the fact that a teeny tiny fraction of a percent of military veterans being mass shooters doesn’t tell us anything about all veterans, just as they’ll tend to pick up on the fact that the majority of mass shooters are non-veterans, which likewise tells us nothing about all non-veterans. Yet the excuse for never ever mentioning the stunning statistic in the headline above is typically the danger of creating a bias against veterans.
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Is it possible that some of these veterans were not trained to shoot guns by the military and had to learn that elsewhere? Anything is possible, but this is highly unlikely, and in a number of cases we know some of the details of their training in the use of firearms.
Needless to say, or rather, I wish it were needless to say, veterans vastly outnumber mass shooters. Most veterans — virtually all veterans — are NOT mass shooters. Similarly, those with mental health issues vastly outnumber mass shooters. Virtually all people with mental health problems, or all men who’ve abused women, or all males, or all gun owners, are NOT mass shooters.
Needless to say, or rather, I wish it were needless to say, more than one contributing factor to mass shootings can be worth addressing.
Needless to say, or rather, I wish it were needless to say, people inclined toward mass shootings could simply also be inclined to join the military, making the relationship a correlation and not a cause. In fact, I would be shocked if there weren’t some truth to that. But it’s also possible that being trained and conditioned and given a familiarity with mass shootings — and in some cases an experience of engaging in mass shooting and having it deemed acceptable or praiseworthy — makes one more likely to mass shoot. I cannot imagine there isn’t truth in that.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is the director of World BEYOND War, a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. He is campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.