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Mass Murder Can Be Reduced

Disincentivize, detect, deescalate, limit.

James Anthony
August 27, 2019 drafted
August 28, 2020 published

Increasingly, most mass murderers are outwardly-normal adult males [1]. There’s a triggering event [2] and the murderer seeks revenge. He chooses a familiar location. He uses handguns [1].

Most mass public shooters have exhibited signs of serious mental illness. A shooter often targets strangers. He deliberates and plans. He sometimes threatens violence. He often finishes by killing himself or by forcing others to kill him [3].

Media people cover mass murders more than customers want. Media people mostly focus on the murderer [4]. Media people underreport on disgruntled employee murderers and on rampage murderers, and overreport on terrorists and on mass murderers at schools [5]. Media coverage of mass murderers often exceeds media coverage of Super Bowl winners and Academy Award winners [4].

Average rates of mass murder change slowly and remain constant for decades [3], but no matter. People automatically react extremely rapidly to stimuli, and people automatically react much more strongly to stimuli that are negative, whether the stimuli are frequent or rare [6] So whether people see a whole lot of the extensive media coverage or people see just a little, people panic [7]. And when people panic, government people have a proven opportunity to sell more government [8].

In the area of government people’s infringement of our right to keep and bear arms [9], Prohibition violence helped media and government people sell us the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act. The assassination of President Kennedy helped them sell us the 1968 Gun Control Act. The attempted assassination of President Reagan helped them sell us the 1993 Brady Law [10].

But more government doesn’t mean more safety.

Many plots are stopped. Most involve specific weapons, plans, and targets. Often the plans reference well-publicized past mass murders. Mostly, though, the people alerted are friends, family members, acquaintances, or strangers, not government people. Eventually government people end up receiving hundreds of thousands of tips a year [11].

Other plots aren’t stopped, even though an intent to harm is communicated in advance of public mass murders more than half the time [12].

Government people fail, often. But unlike with businesses—which customers can stop buying from immediately—with governments the same government people can just keep failing and getting paid the same as ever. To rely on government people is a recipe for increasing costs and most-likely not improving results.

To rely more on individual freedom is the key to increasing efficiency and increasing the value added. Many freedom-based improvements are possible, even on seemingly-intractable mass murder.


Disincentivize mass murder by limiting mass murderers’ free publicity and name recognition. Free publicity and name recognition result from quantifiable, bread-and-butter reporting decisions and editorial decisions—on the relative frequency, positioning, and space given to stories on mass murder; on the amount of focus on the mass murderers; and on the details disseminated about the mass murderers’ methods.

Video and print media content creators and companies, acting one at a time or in groups, can significantly change this content through self-control.

Customers provide the supervisory control whenever there’s free and voluntary cooperation. Customers can choose reporters, channels, and print media who don’t spread such harmful content.

Beyond this, state-government people can experiment at exercising additional supervisory control. State-government people can make a big difference even if they’re only in a single key state, as can be seen in the market for school textbooks.

Congress people and presidents can make straight the path for state-government people to use these powers that are not enumerated to the national government, by explicitly removing from all national courts any jurisdiction over speech and press related to mass murder.


Detect potential mass murder by limiting how much violent imagery, symbolism, and terminology people are exposed to, limiting the background noise so that any signals from potential mass murderers about weapons, plans, and targets stand out more distinctly to the amateurs who first receive this information, and to the professionals who are faced with deluges of tips.

Here too, content creators and providers, customers, state-government people, and national-government people each have specific parts they can play, and each can potentially make the outcomes significantly different by dropping their comfortable traditional positioning and instead focusing clearly on the actions they themselves each control and therefore have within their power to change.


Deescalate potential mass murder, across every potential murderer’s life trajectory, by continuing to improve at providing intervention and care for people who have known vulnerabilities: signs of serious mental illness, and experiences of traumatic separations or losses.

Once again, in free and voluntary cooperation the lead role is played by independent, free people: here, customers—parents and independent adults—choosing to access mental health care not reluctantly but proactively; and healthcare providers honing their craft of triaging and assisting people who stand to benefit from psychiatric care and medication, or from counseling. Congress and presidents can best improve such care by eliminating the FDA, which adds nothing to producers’ internal controls on safety, but which forbiddingly impedes development of more efficacious drugs, harming the most-vulnerable people [13], and in mass murders harming those people’s victims.


Limit mass murder, once it’s contemplated or it’s beginning, by making our defense a much-better offense. Mass murderers’ plans are deterred by people with guns and are ended by people with guns.

As always, in free and voluntary cooperation the lead role is played by independent, free people: here, individuals with guns. People who are decisive and who are willing can arm themselves and get themselves the training and ongoing practice they need to readily take action if needed. City- and state-government people can best free people to carry guns by repealing city ordinances and state statutes that infringe our right to keep and bear arms. Congress and presidents can best free up this resource against mass murder by repealing national statutes that infringe our right to keep and bear arms, and by stopping city- and state-government people who infringe this right.

On the mass murder problem, the reason we remain stuck is that national media and national politicians keep doing the same things and believing they’ll get different results.

The real way for government people to better secure people’s right to live free of mass murder is for government people to better free individuals and companies to create real solutions.

Nothing produces positive results like knowing what things you can’t change, and changing what things you can.


  1. Capellan, Joel A., and SimonPeter Gomez. “Change and Stability in Offender, Behaviours, and Incident‐Level Characteristics of Mass Public Shootings in the United States, 1984–2015.” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, vol. 15, no. 1, 2018, pp. 51-72.

  2. Taylor, Melanie A. “A Comprehensive Study of Mass Murder Precipitants and Motivations of Offenders.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 62, no. 2, 2018, pp. 427-49.

  3. Duwe, Grant. “The Patterns and Prevalence of Mass Public Shootings in the United States, 1915–2013.” The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings, 2017, pp. 20-35.

  4. Lankford, Adam, and Eric Madfis. “Media Coverage of Mass Killers: Content, Consequences, and Solutions.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 62, no. 2, 2018, pp. 151-62.

  5. Silva, Jason R., and Joel A. Capellan. “A Comparative Analysis of Media Coverage of Mass Public Shootings: Examining Rampage, Disgruntled Employee, School, and Lone-Wolf Terrorist Shootings in the United States.” Criminal Justice Policy Review, 2018.

  6. Smith, N. Kyle, et al. “May I Have Your Attention, Please: Electrocortical Responses to Positive and Negative Stimuli.” Neuropsychologia, vol. 41, no. 2, 2003, pp. 171-83.

  7. Burns, Ronald, and Charles Crawford. “School Shootings, the Media, and Public Fear: Ingredients for a Moral Panic.” Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 32, no. 2, 1999, pp. 147-68.

  8. Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan. Oxford University Press, 1987.

  9. U.S. Constitution. Amend. 2.

  10. Vizzard, William J. “The Current and Future State of Gun Policy in the United States.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 104, no. 4, 2015. pp. 879-904.

  11. Sarteschi, Christine M. “An Examination of Thwarted Mass Homicide Plots and Threateners.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 30, 2016, pp. 88-93.

  12. Silver, James, et al. “Foreshadowing Targeted Violence: Assessing Leakage of Intent by Public Mass Murderers.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 38, 2018, pp. 94-100.

  13. Klein, Daniel B., and Alexander Tabarrok. “Theory, Evidence and Examples of FDA Harm.” FDA Review.org, a Project of the Independent Institute, 2016, www.fdareview.org/issues/theory-evidence-and-examples-of-fda-harm/. Accessed 25 Sep. 201

James Anthony, a chemical engineer in St. Peters, Missouri, is author of The Constitution Needs a Good Party: Good Government Comes from Good Boundaries, and the forthcoming rConstitution Papers: Offsetting Powers Secure Our Rights


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