Do two back-to-back mass shootings in California suggest that older men will be the next generation of mass murderers?
Experts say, don’t count on it. The 72-year-old man who killed 11 people in Monterey Park and the 66-year-old who allegedly killed seven near Half Moon Bay may have committed the crimes within 48 hours and 400 miles of each other. But they are likely to remain an outlier in the growing census of younger offenders.
The reason: Although older men quickly contract infectious diseases, they seem almost immune to the kinds of infections that lead to violent displays of imitation.
“We don’t see many people between the ages of 60 and 70 commit mass murder, and when they do it’s usually a murder-suicide within the family,” said Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.
Suicides tend to occur in clusters that are suggestive of contagion, McDevitt said, but there is little evidence that homicides or mass shootings follow such a pattern.
More important, he added, is one of criminology’s most striking findings: When it comes to crime in general, and violent crime specifically, men tend to “age beyond” criminal activity.
We also see this pattern in mass shootings.
A database maintained by Northeastern University’s Department of Criminology shows that, at age 72, the man who sprayed bullets at a dance floor dance Saturday night in Monterey Park, and died the next day from a gunshot wound, was a second-oldest perpetrator of mass murder In the last years. The 66-year-old man charged with the fatal shooting of seven people in San Mateo County on Monday afternoon would also be among the oldest mass murder offenders.
This database dates back to 2006.
The fact that the two men are Asian and immigrants puts them in a smaller company. Since 1967, a database of mass shooters maintained by the Violence Project found that 11 of the 172 perpetrators—about 6.4%—were of Asian descent. Nine of these mass shooters immigrated to the United States from places of birth in Asia.
In all, 15.1% of the Project Violence mass shooting perpetrators were immigrants.
Although they differ in methodology and in the range of dates they cover, the mass murder database maintained by Northeastern University, USA Today, and the Associated Press tells a very similar story. It found that from 2006 through before the two California shootings, 34 of the 535 incidents — also 6.4% — were carried out by perpetrators identified as Asian or Pacific Islander.
What surprised the researchers most, however, was the age of the most recent mass shooting in California. Not since a 64-year-old video poker player killed 58 attendees of the Las Vegas Music Festival in 2017 has an elderly person carried out a mass shooting in the United States.
Violence in general, and mass killings in particular, is very much the province of younger and middle-aged men, said Emma Friedel, who teaches criminology at Florida State University and contributes to the Northeastern database. Over recent decades, she said, the average age of mass murderers — who kill four or more people in a single incident with any weapon — has been between 30 and 32.
(They are also overwhelmingly male: In the Violence Project’s database of 172 mass shooters, all but four were men, and two of the four women worked in partnership with a man.)
“One of the main features that we see common to mass murderers is the externalization of blame,” Friedel said. “They tend to be oppression collectors.”
Despite their apparent role in school shootings, teens and young adults are not the demographic most likely to engage in mass killing; She said they are generally too young to accumulate enough grievances to move them to such violence.
At the other end of the spectrum, she added, older men tend to “develop coping skills to deal with life’s frustrations.”
Although they may have many grievances, they seem to have safely reached old age because they have found less violent ways to manage their anger and disappointment.
“Collective shooters don’t reach old age because they generally can’t acclimate for long,” Friedel said.
If grievance provides a general motive for mass killing, the shooter’s choice of location may provide more specific clues about the circumstances that prompted him, experts say.
In this regard, experts, including McDevitt, view the crimes of the two men as somewhat distinct. The Monterey Park shooter’s choice of Star Ballroom suggests that disappointing social relationships may have motivated his actions. The San Mateo County shooting appears to have targeted the suspect’s colleagues or employers, which could indicate problems with money or work relationships.
“Having two tragedies in a row makes people look for patterns, and they may not be there,” Friedel warned. “We’re still talking about rare cases.”
The Violence Project’s database shows that 31% of mass shootings occurred in the workplace, and about 22% occurred in a bar, restaurant, or residence—places that suggest the shooter may have been motivated by failed relationships or personal or group hatred.
Such distinctions pale next to the single most common factor uniting all mass shootings, said Dr. Amy Barnhorst, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis who studies gun violence.
“Many people struggle with entitlements, hate, anger and disappointment,” Barnhorst said. “The thing that makes mass shootings is the gun.”
Add a gun to the mix, and “all these different paths that start in different places come together in a place where anger and resentment lead to gunfire instead of a punched wall or bar fight,” she says.
Here too, the demographics of the two California shootings seem consistent with some warning signs of potential violence, but inconsistent with others.
An online survey conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis and Harvard University in 2018 estimated that 4.2 million adults in California own a firearm. A disproportionate number of firearm owners—43%—were 60 or older.
In light of this discovery, it is not surprising that the archers had weapons. However, gun ownership among Asian Americans appears to be much rarer: In a state where Asians and Pacific Islanders account for nearly 16% of the population, the survey found that only 9% of gun owners defined their race as something other than white, black or white. Latin.
Barnhorst said the vast majority of gun owners are “very law abiding and gun owners.” “It only takes giving them a bad name.”