Santa Barbara “Shootings”

The first thing to remember about any of these mass killings is: it’s really all about him. Their chosen target group is more or less random, and their victims are seldom actually from the target group. Many of those who are hurt and die have nothing to do with the ostensible obsession of the killer.

These young men — and it is almost always a relatively young man[1] — demonstrate self-loathing, but are at the same time narcissistic. Instead of admitting that they hate themselves, they seek to externalize their pain. They pick a group: blacks, Jews, rich people, poor people, mentally disabled, women — someone they can safely “other”, someone who represents something they fear, or someone who possesses something they covet — and make that group a target for all of their failings, problems (whether real or imagined) and extreme emotions. Then they make grandiose plans.

Mark Sappenfield for the Christian Science Monitor:

… The young men who are overwhelmingly responsible for these shooting sprees fit a very clear portrait: self-obsessed yet marginalized in some way. Their rampages are not fits of senseless rage, but cold, calculating attempts to level the score with society.

In the attempt to become an antihero – to lay bare how they think they have been wronged by others – these men need an audience, and shooting sprees are the ultimate way to get one.

This incident is being framed as a gun control issue, and as a feminist issue, but his first victims were 3 men he stabbed to death. Men, not women. A knife, not a gun.

He attacked those closest to him first; intimates, roommates. This is very common when someone commits violence of any kind. You are most at risk from someone you know well.

According to the timeline of his spree, he was only able to focus himself on his chosen scapegoat group for a very short time, and he was completely unsuccessful in finding a target at the sorority house he visited. He shot three women at random, who just happened to be in the area. He shot another man (who he might have known), and then randomly attacked several more groups of people, both men and women, as he drove around.

Despite the mindshare that mass shootings get in the news, they are a vanishingly small part of the overall landscape of violent crime. Even among firearm murders they comprise “less than one percent of gun murder victims recorded by the FBI in 2010”.[2] Which correlates well with the information in a Pew Research article, “According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008.”[3]

While #YesAllWomen has shone light on issues that had been ignored or marginalized by too many, and the greater attention paid to those issues is probably a net positive, framing this story as a consequence of misogyny is twisting the facts to fit an ideology. It might be useful for publicity, but it’s not reflective of what actually happened.

The more sad and frightening truth is that women are not in any particular danger from men like Elliot Rodger. Women are most likely to be killed by a current boyfriend or husband, a man who was previously in an intimate relationship with her, or another man she knows well. Serious violence from strangers is relatively uncommon for women.

The reality is that men have the most to fear from men they don’t know well.[4] Women should be most wary of men they have current or prior relationships with.[5]

The violence in Santa Barbara was the product of one disturbed young man’s ideation. It may be reflective of the society itself, but only insomuch as American society glorifies violence in general and dotes on spectacle. Viewed dispassionately, Rodger’s spree has little to do with misogyny; it was a symptom of his pathology, not an underlying cause. His use of a firearm in the commission of some of his crimes may provide an excuse for people to discuss gun control again, but it adds nothing meaningful to the debate. The issues people have chosen to impose on the narrative are mostly spurious.

How do we prevent spree killings? My answer: ignore them. They feed on publicity. But, this hasn’t worked for “celebrity”, so what do I know?


  1. “The average age of the shooters in the incidents identified by CRS was 33.5 years.” Congressional Research Service report, Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Implications for Federal Public Health and Safety Policy
    (PDF)  ↩

  2. Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings (PDF) from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pg. 3. (Source via: Journalist’s Resource)  ↩

  3. Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware The downward trend has started to reverse since 2007, but is still generally declining.  ↩

  4. “Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000) was 3 times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000). The offending rate for males (15.1 per 100,000) was almost 9 times higher than the rate for females (1.7 per 100,000).” And later, “Males were nearly 4 times more likely than females to be murdered in 2008”, which was the most recent year compiled in the report, Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008 (PDF)  ↩

  5. NISVS 2010 Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey  ↩