There's a statistical link between military experience and mass shooters

Elizabeth Howe
November 09, 2018 - 1:17 pm

Photo courtesy of Associated Press


Numbers are numbers — and the numbers show a link between military experience and mass shooters. According to an ABC report, veterans make up 14 percent of the adult male population of the United States. At the same time, they make up a third of mass gun attack perpetrators.

Micah Johnson, George Jo Hennard, Michael McDermott, Robert Flores, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, Wade Michael Page, Radcliffe Haughton, Aaron Alexis, Ivan Lopez-Lopez, Esteban Santiago, Devin Kelley, and Ian David Long are all on a growing list of veterans accused of or charged with mass shootings.

This isn't new news. The numerical link between military service and mass shooters has been documented and discussed for years. But there's a lot of debate about what those numbers actually mean. 

For starters, does the link have to do with access to and training with guns?

Teylor Whittler found herself frantically running away from a man with a gun in Borderline Bar & Grill Wednesday night. She told the New York Times that she saw the gunman reload.

"He knew what he was doing," she said. "He had perfect form."

A form he perfected as a machine gunner in the Marines. 

While Long acquired his weapon legally he knew how to optimize it with an extended clip and — as eyewitnesses have attested — he knew how to efficiently use it.

And then, of course, there's the question of PTSD.

When the general public finds out that a mass shooter or a murderer or a bank robber or a domestic abuser or any sort of criminal was also a veteran the first assumption is PTSD. 

Did PTSD lead Long to Borderline Bar & Grill with a gun? Is PTSD why he allegedly killed twelve others before killing himself?

The president thinks so.

And previous discussions of this link have also pointed out that maybe mental health professionals could have and should have helped. But in this most recent tragedy, there's evidence that mental health professionals did everything they could — which one could argue wasn't much since Long wasn't exhibiting symptoms of PTSD and wasn't seen as a threat to himself or others.

Maybe Long's actions have nothing to do with the fact that he was a veteran and that he may or may not have had PTSD. Maybe what he did had nothing to do with his time in the Marines. According to a neighbor even before he enlisted  Long was described as "odd" and "disrespectful," and could be heard yelling and cursing.

Among all the "maybes" and answers we may never know, the link between military service and mass shooters remains. And if understanding that link could mean preventing these tragedies from occurring, we think it's high time someone figured it out.