Poverty is not the only thing on the rise in the U.S. As reported over the weekend, mass murders have risen 5% from 1360 incidents in 2008 to 1428 incidents in 2009, despite a decline of 7% in homicide rates over that same period of time. In fact, single-victim murder has declined a remarkable 40% since 1980.
Still, we have to be careful with statistics. A closer look at the numbers reveals that an average of 163 people died in mass murders from 2006 to 2008, up only slightly from the annual average of 161 during the 1980s. What hasn’t changed is the fact that mass murder is more likely to be committed by white, middle-aged men. And most of these men do not kill strangers, but people they blame for their problems such as spouses, supervisors, or colleagues from work. Many mass murderers are both homicidal and suicidal.
The latest example is Omar Thornton who killed eight co-workers and himself at a Harford, Connecticut beer distribution warehouse on August 3rd when he was forced to resign after surveillance video showed he had stolen beer from the company.
California led the nation with a total of 118 mass murders from 1980 to 2008, resulting in 565 deaths. New York was second with 84 incidents resulting in 441 deaths. Texas had 78 mass murders resulting in 363 deaths. Florida was ranked fourth with 62 incidents resulting in 279 deaths. Michigan rounded out the top five with 52 incidents resulting in 229 deaths. Montana and Rhode Island each had only 1 incident, resulting in 4 and 6 deaths respectively. (The FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report defines mass murder as four or more victims.)
So why are we experiencing an increase in mass murders?
Some researchers suggest that current economic conditions in the country are responsible. Men can’t hold or find jobs. Many families are falling into bankruptcy and are foreclosing on their homes. That might account for the fact that Michigan, which ranks 50th in the nation with an unemployment rate of 13.1% according to figures released in July, has such a large number of mass murders. California ranks 49th with a 12.3% unemployment rate while Florida is ranked 47th with 11.5% of its workers unemployed. New York and Texas seem to be the exceptions. Each state ranks 22nd in the nation with unemployment rates of 8.2%.
Narcissism, physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse, depression, and sociopathic behaviors have also been cited as reasons for mass murders. Some researchers suggest that the 24/7 coverage that follows one of these horrific events reinforces a potential killer's belief that what he sees as a meaningless life can end on a grand scale even if he won't be around to enjoy the transformation. Others cite the easy access to guns and ammunition.
Whatever the cause, I fear the upward trend in mass murders is likely to continue, at least in the short term, particularly if economic conditions in the country do not improve significantly.