Entertainment television continually provides a false impression of those who commit mass public shootings and how they commit them. Show after show has mass public shootings involving machine guns, though that never happens. But another myth is that attacks are frequently by white supremacists. In his first Townhall as president, Biden claimed: “And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.” CBS entertainment television constantly portrays white supremacists as the most pressing danger facing the country, committing almost all the mass public shootings. Yet, that is far from the case.
Our dataset of Mass Public Shooting List US 1998-March 2021 provides information on the ages, political views, and religious beliefs of mass public shooters and these killers’ race and gender. Mass public shootings are defined as those cases where four or more people are killed at one point in time in a public place and not involving some other type of crime such as a gang fight or a robbery. We also looked at information on the mass vehicle and bombing attacks (though bombing attacks in the US where multiple people are killed are rare). Clearly, we showed that very few of these attacks are politically or religiously motivated.
The claim that these killers are so overwhelmingly white is also misleading. While whites (excluding those from Middle Eastern descent) make up most mass public shooters, that is 6.4% below their share of the population. Hispanics are even lower than their percentage of the U.S. population. By contrast, those of Middle Eastern descent, Asians, Blacks, and American Indians are all above their population shares. If you combine all Christian groups together, you get 16.3% being Christian so that exceeds the number of Muslims, though Muslims and other non-Christian religions are overrepresented relative to their share of the population and Christians and Jews are underrepresented.
These killers are also overwhelmingly non-political (73%). The next most prominent group are Islamic extremists (8%), but you won’t see any of the television shows having Islamic extremists making these attacks. Few of these involve hate crimes against blacks: Dylann Storm Roof (Charleston, SC 6/17/2015); Robert Bowers (Pittsburgh, PA 10/27/2018); Patrick Wood Crusius (El Paso, TX 8/3/2019). Just 5 percent of all attacks fall into this category. On the other hand, the Dallas, Texas attack by Micah Xavier Johnson on July 7, 2016 involved an attack that specifically targeted white police officers.
However, mass public shooters are overwhelmingly male, with 96% of shooters being male.