Mass Shootings: Epidemic Spread Through The United States

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Mass shootings have been on the rise in the United States. The increase in shootings has raised numerous questions as to the reasons for the increasing trends. In the last ten years, America has lost thousands of people in the hands of mass shooters who attack public places such as business premises, schools, religious institutions as well as recreational facilities. There has been no answer as to the cause of crime but this goes far beyond the issues of mental illness and gun control as many have argued. However, several theoretical perspectives can be used to establish the reasons as to why mass shooting as a crime has been on the increase and some of the strategies that can be put in place in order to deal with the issue. There is a need to analyze the crime of mass shooting and how it has affected society. Moreover, it’s essential to address how the society ought to respond to mass shootings based on social control perspective as compared to the general strain perspective and why the social control perspective provides the best solution for the crime.

Definition of Mass Shooting and its associated Harm on the Society

Mass shootings are one of the most prevalent crimes in America. In the are1980’s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave a definition of a mass murderer as any person who takes away the lives of four or more people within a single incident, the murderer excluded, in a single location (Fox & Fridel, 2016). However, no standard definition of mass shooting has been developed and this has prompted different media outlets, law enforcement authorities as well as academic researchers to adopt different definitions while dealing or discussing the crime. Even though there is no standards definition of mass shooting as a crime that can separate it from other crimes of the nature, a common approach towards the definition of the crime has been to incorporate the Federal Bureau of Investigation guidelines on a mass murder that sets a limit of four victims by the use of firearms in which case the offender or the offenders are excluded (Krouse & Richardson, 2015). However, this categorization of mass shooting has raised several controversies with regard to the number of fatalities involved. Critics have faulted the definition on the ground that it fails to capture incidences that involve fewer than four people killed and other victims injured in the process. However, the definition was developed by the FBI as a way of making clear the criminal procedures but not for the purposes of data collection.

Mass shooting causes a lot of harm to the society especially to those involved and those who witness the incidences. It is clear that mass shootings have been the cause of thousands of deaths in America. Many people have lost their lives as a result of people getting into specific public venues such as schools, churches, and recreational areas and open fire randomly (Follman et al., 2017). Due to the fact that it is always a sudden and surprise attack most of the victims are found unawares with no defensive measure to take in order to save their lives. The survivors of the crimes are always traumatized and frustrated due to the horrific events they are made to witness in a short period of time that attacks take place. Moreover, some of the survivors have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, statistics indicate that about 36% of the survivors of mass shootings are suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder representing one of the highest rates of the victims of the disorder (Krouse & Richardson, 2015). The mass shooting has an effect to the general security of the State which has prompted the government to initiate measures that are intended at dealing with the increasing rates of mass shooting and killing(Fox &Fridel, 2016).In essence, it has difficult to understand the reasons as to why the offenders perpetuate the crime. Moreover, the motive behind the crime has also not been established. The FBI has therefore been on a high alert of the mass shooting cases with most of the public venues receiving tightened security to deal with any threat of mass shooting.

The Prevalence of Mass Shooting in America

Mass shootings have become more prevalent in American society. This has led to the loss of many lives in the hands of the mass shooters in various places. The number of deaths from mass shootings has been high since 2007 and this has been because of the five major incidences including Sandy Hook (27), Orlando Nightclub (49), Texas First Baptist Church (26), Virginia Tech (32) and Las Vegas (58) (Lowe & Galea, 2017). According to Lowe and Galea (2017), mass shootings are becoming more deadly and dangerous. As a result, more people are at great risk of losing their lives in the process. It is therefore important that more measures be taken by the security departments and the society in general. Moreover, a report from the FBI in the recent past has indicated that a number of mass shooting cases have more than doubled between 2007 and 2017 from the first to the second half of the period (Studdert, 2017). Four of the five fatal incidences of mass shootings in the history of America have been perpetuated in the last five years which is an indication of the fact that that the crime is becoming more prevalent and common with the American society. The FBI report has also indicated that about 160 of active mass shooter incidences took place in the United States between the year 2007 and 2018 leading to the death of about 480 people a trend which has been said to be on the rise (Studdert, 2017). This has been a worrying trend to the society and the general security of the country.

With regard to the locations in which mass shootings take place, the business setting has been ranked at the top. This is because of the fact that business locations have many people. In case of an attack, more people can be killed within a very short period of time which is the main target of the killers (Lankford, 2016). Schools come second on the rankings and this has made the school going children the main targets of the mass shootings. Other areas that have been targeted in the recent past are government buildings which account for 11% of the total mass shootings in a span of 10 years and religious locations or places of worship which account for only 4% of the total mass shootings in the last 10 years (Joslyn & Haider‐Markel, 2017). This means that the last 10 years have seen many people dying in the hands of mass shooters. This has caused a worrying trend among the security authorities as well as the rest of American society. Therefore, society is in the process of seeking answers as to how to deal with the rising trend. The fact that less mass shooters end up taking their lives means that their security departments have the ability to take control of the situation. In this case, this will help in regulating the menace as well as protecting the entire American population which is at the risk of being attacked each new day (Smith, Shapiro & Sarani, 2016). If more stringent measures can be taken by both the society and the security agencies, then the problem of mass shootings can be controlled and regulated in all given aspects.

The Social Control Theory and how it applies to Mass Shooting

Other criminological theories only explain the reasons as to why people engage in crime. However, Hirschi’s theory gives an explanation for why members of society obey societal rules and still be law-abiding as they are required. This is one the best theory to explain mass shooting as a crime as it gives some of the reasons as to why people or perpetrators of crime find themselves in a position where they are not able to obey the societal rules and thereafter engage in a mass shooting (Hirschi, 2017). Hirschi’s gives four major social bonds of which when broken or weakened, place people in a position to commit a crime such as mass shooting. The first social bond according to Hirschi is an attachment. Attachment under the theory is defined as a form of compassion or empathy that is directed towards family members, friends, and acquaintances. Once this attachment is broken or weakened, there is always an element of people feeling lonely and neglected and therefore resort to criminal behavior such as mass shooting(Morris, Gerber & Menard, 2011). It is therefore clear that mass shooters have a very weak attachment with other people who are close to them at least in the moments up to and during the mass shooting. The weakened attachments tend to make the victims harbor strange feelings such as anger, disappointment, and stress which grow day by day leading to the attacks. Whereas some of the shooters can target specific people, most of them have been reported to shoot aimlessly into a crowd of people like the Thousand Oak Shooter. The aimless shooting by the shooters is an indication of the fact that they have no little respect for human life and have therefore justified their actions (Morris, Gerber & Menard, 2011). This can be compared to the strategies the terrorists use in justifying their attacks.

The second social bond according to Hirschi that might lead to mass shooting if weakened or undermined is commitment. Commitment refers to the amount of time or energy a given individual puts in the process of pursuing a given objective or goal such as acquiring a college certificate or pursuing a particular profession or position (Ward, Boman IV & Jones, 2015). According to the theory, many people are aware of the fact that taking part in crime has the potential of jeopardizing their dreams and aspiration. This is the reason as to why they resolve to be law abiding and put their commitment into more helpful activities. In the case of mass shooters, they first tend to unravel then become despondent and with time they become erratic and irritable (Ward, Boman IV & Jones, 2015). With such as an attitude and mindset, they tend to think about crime and in the case, they get any access to dangerous weapons such as guns, they can attack people and become mass shooters. The shooters also have a ‘kill or be Killed’ mentality and this is the reason as to why they end up committing suicide or taking their lives after the attacks such as the Thousand Oaks’ Shooters who later died as a result of a self-inclined wound.

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Involvement is another social bond that is important as far as controlling crime is concerned. Those people who are involved in most of the activities that are important to society do not have the mentality to get engaged in crime (Buker, 2011). According to Hirschi, this is the main reason as to why most parents always want their children to get involved in most of the social activities and institutions such as churches as well as other co-curriculum activities such as athletics and other sports. Through engaging in such activities, the children are unlikely to develop such mentalities of getting involved in crimes such as mass shooting and other serious crimes (Buker, 2011). Those who get involved in mass shootings are always described as a loner or lonely people who have nothing to get them to engage their minds fully. Moreover, such persons lack the ability to feel like they are part of society and that they can be part of all the activities in the society (Ward, Boman IV & Jones, 2015). As a result, the get preoccupied with the thoughts of getting involved in crime and this explains the reason as to why once they get hold of a gun or a serious weapon will always launch attacks against the members of the public.

The final social bond as described by Hirschi is belief. People tend to avoid engaging in crime as a result of believing and trusting in social rules and norms that are set within the society. These rules and regulations are always developed by various parties such as parents, religious institutions, and educational institutions (Hirschi, 2017). According to Hirschi, the more people believe in the existing social norms and rules, the less the likelihood to engage in criminal behaviors and conduct. This is because they allow the social rules and norms to direct and bond them towards doing what is right within the society. On the other hand, a criminal offender or mass shooters have a disregard for the social norms and rules which makes them develop their own deviant behaviors (Hirschi, 2017). For example, the notion that killing is wrong is a notion that is instilled by the parent to their children. Such norms are also instilled by educational and religious institutions. Therefore, mass shooters choose to go against the rule and have their own rule or belief that killing is not bad and a violation of the societal norms.

In essence, Hirschi argues that a loss in the social control over some of the members of the society is the reason for the rise in the level of crime, especially among the adolescent. Important social institutions such as educational institutions, religious institutions, and political institutions have failed to take control of the lives of the adolescents (Levin & Madfis, 2009). As a result, such individuals started violated the societal norms and rules. Moreover, Hirschi blames the weakened societal norms on a family as an institution especially the increase in the number of divorces and single families in the society. In this regard, children grow up in a society with very weak societal norms and institutions putting them at the risk of turning into mass shooters (Fox & DeLateur, 2014). The rise in the number of people engaging in a mass shooting has been on increase in America due to the weakening of the most important societal institutions. Research has indicated that about 34% of children in the US are being brought up in families which are broken or single parents (Follman, 2017). It is therefore clear that those responsible for mass shootings have very poor resilience and coping skills.

A Comparison between Social Control Perspective and General Strain Perspective of Mass Shooting as a Crime

In comparison with the social control theory, general strain theory provides another important perspective through which mass shooting as a crime can be explained. Developed by Agnew, the general strain theory focuses on different forms of strain, coping up mechanisms and how exposure to the strain can lead one to commit a crime (Agnew, 2009). For example, among the youths, they are put in place in a unique position as far as the strain is concerned with their relationships. Since most of them are unable to get themselves out of the strain, they develop negative emotions and feelings which push them towards committing crimes. Moreover, strain can be as a result of a failure to achieve one’s dreams and aspirations which makes them bitter and adds a lot of strain and pressure on them (Agnew, 2009).In such a situation, the persons are likely to engage in criminal activities such as mass shooting as a way of releasing the pressure and tension in them. Mass shooting can also serve as a better way of dealing with their frustration and disappointments as a result of their failures. This, therefore, brings out mass shootings as crimes which are highly calculated and planned and not random activities and events.

Whereas the general strain theory describes the reasons as to why people might get involved in the mass shooting, the social control theory describes the reasons as to why people tend to adhere to societal norms and rules. The general strain theory claims that people engage in a mass shooting as a result of personal strain that is caused by various frustrations in life or their relationships (Agnew, 2009). In this regard, the strain makes them to harbor negative feelings and which push the perpetrators to violent crimes such as mass shooting which have been on a rise in America. The social control theory, on the other hand, claims that people adhere to the societal rulers and norms as a result of strong bond and norms among the members of the society (Hirschi, 2017). Once the societal bonds are weakened, the perpetrators develop deviant behaviors which push them to commit violent crimes such as mass shooting. Moreover, the weakening of the societal bonds has been blamed on failed societal institutions such as religious institutions, schools, and families which are responsible for instilling positive values and morals among the members of society thereby making them obey all the societal norms and rules.

Societal Response to Mass Shooting Based on Social Control Theory

In order to deal with the problem of a mass shooting as a crime, several strategies need to put in place. Based on the social control theory, social institutions need to be strengthened. These institutions include religious institutions and educational institutions. They are responsible for ensuring that the young generation is taught on how to adhere and stick to the social norms and rules that will help regulate their behaviors (Buker, 2011). Besides, the society should strategize on how to build and develop resilience which is a very major component in dealing with a criminal mind and mentality. People should be taught on how to take good decisions especially when they feel a break in their connection. More counseling should be conducted especially to the younger generation in order to educate them on how to deal with some of the personal pressures and setbacks (Buker, 2011). People should also learn how to look and establish their new potentials and capabilities. This will go a long way in ensuring that they get engaged and committed to a positive course which is one of the major social bond identified by Hirschi.


In describing the mass shooting as one of the violent crimes, the social control perspective gives the best position. This is based on the idea that it is a crime that is majorly based on societal failure to continue holding on social bonds and norms. As described by Hirschi, the moment societal bonds are weakened, the probability of more people falling into crime and developing deviant behavior increases. This is exactly the case with mass shootings as many of the perpetrators conduct the crime due to weakened societal bonds from where they come from. Moreover, the weakening of the social bonds is as a result of failed institutions such as the family, religious establishments and educational institutions which should be strengthened once more as part of the efforts to deal with this crime. It is only through the strengthening of the social bonds that the prospect perpetrators of this crime will be able to take their mind off from killing and divert them to other constructive activities and objectives. America should, therefore, strengthen the social institutions first before seeking the help of security institutions in addressing the crime. With such a strategy in place, the rate at which mass shooting is being perpetuated will go down in the near future.

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