After the attack on Virginia Walmart, here’s what we know about mass retail shooters | opinion

Jillian Peterson, Hamline University and James Densley, Metropolitan State University

A gun rampage at a Walmart in Virginia is the latest amid a spike in mass shootings generally in the US and mass shootings at grocery and retail stores in particular.

Several people, including the shooter, were killed in the November 22, 2022 incident at a Chesapeake store of the retailer. It follows a racist attack at a Buffalo grocery store earlier this year that killed 10 black shoppers. A previous Walmart mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in 2021 was similarly racially motivated — 23 people were killed by a gunman who posted a hateful anti-immigrant manifesto online.

We are criminologists studying the life stories of mass shooters in the United States. Since 2017, we have conducted dozens of interviews with incarcerated offenders and people they knew. We also created a comprehensive database of public mass shootings using public data, with shooters coded on nearly 200 different variables.

Overall, mass public shootings that kill four or more people have become more frequent and deadly over the past decade, with the US now averaging about seven of these events per year. Our definition of public mass shootings excludes cases where the killings are attributed to other underlying criminal activities such as drugs and gang membership, which explains why they may be lower than other estimates.

Mass shootings also tend to be more frequent, with one study finding they are contagious for an average of 13 days, and our own research shows those responsible study and draw inspiration from other mass shootings. The May 14 shooting in Buffalo preceded a series of mass shootings this summer, including at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, at a medical facility in Oklahoma and during a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois. The latest tragedy in Chesapeake, Virginia comes just three days after a gunman killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.

What do we know about mass shootings in stores?

The Chesapeake, Virginia tragedy is the 36th mass shooting recorded in our database to have occurred in a retail store. Those shootings left 217 dead and 227 others injured, and they have been increasing over time – with 2019 and 2021 being the worst years on record for retail shootings.

Retail shoots are most common in southern and western states, and two-thirds were in urban areas. The perpetrators were all male except for one woman, who committed the shooting with her male partner.

Retail mass shooters were white in 56% of these incidents and black in 25% of recorded cases and aged between 18 and 70 – although 60% were between 20 and 20 years old. About 1 in 10 were employees of the retail establishments they targeted.

The perpetrators usually used a weapon (58%). A third of the perpetrators used an AR-15 assault weapon.

Looking at the life stories of the perpetrators, two-thirds had a criminal record and half of them stated intent to harm others prior to the attack. Still, retail shootings tend to be less well planned than other mass shootings – only 22% of perpetrators carried out extensive planning.

Two-thirds of the shooters were suicidal – 26% had previously attempted suicide and another 37% intended to die during the shooting – and about 30% suffered from psychosis, although in 11% of retail outlets the perpetrators acted solely on the basis of their hallucinations or delusions shootings. Half of the perpetrators had a known prejudice against a racial or religious group.

Workplace rampages and what motivates them

The motive behind the Virginia incident is unknown, but reports indicate the perpetrator was a Walmart employee. According to our data, workplace shootings are motivated 70% of the time by an employment issue such as dismissal or suspension and 23% by an interpersonal conflict with another employee. Almost three quarters of the perpetrators show changes in behavior or warning signals, such as increased excitement, before the shooting.

Our research suggests many strategies to prevent this type of mass shooting, from anonymous employee reporting systems to workplace crisis response teams. Overall, however, the most effective strategy would be to limit access to firearms for high-risk individuals.

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article were incorporated into a story first published on May 15, 2022.The conversation

Jillian Peterson, Professor of Criminal Justice, Hamline University and James Densley, Professor of Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.