A common element among attacks by armed gunmen opening fire in public places lies with the shooters, who are frequently motivated by grievances in their lives, wielding guns they obtained legally and targeting specific victims when they open fire, says an FBI study reported by the Washington Post. The study, which examined dozens of active shooters between 2000 and 2013, found that contrary to the public perception of the episodes as being fueled by mental health issues — an assertion frequently given voice by politicians, including President Trump — law enforcement officials were able to verify that only about 25 percent of the attackers had diagnosed mental health issues.
The attackers, almost always men or boys, typically attacked places that were familiar to them. They had acted in ways that concerned the people around them ahead of the attacks, with many expressing a desire to carry out violent acts. Most used guns they acquired legally, oftentimes buying the weapons specifically for their attacks, the study concluded. “Offenders don’t snap,” said Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, a co-author of the study. “They don’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide to attack.” Rather, the decision is part of “a long process,” Simons said. The study found that 77 percent of attackers spent a week or longer planning their violence, which “does take some forethought and design on the part of the offender,” he said. The study examined 63 cases, focusing on the shooters and the actions that led up to their attacks. Other research has found that most attacks came after people close to the shooters noticed worrisome behavior. “Some of these concerning behaviors do presage violence,” said James Silver, a criminal justice professor at Worcester State University, one of the FBI study’s three authors.