Opinion: Examining the history of mass shootings

A woman sits on a curb at the scene of a shooting outside of a music festival along the Las Vegas Strip, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Multiple victims were being transported to hospitals after a shooting late Sunday at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. (AP Photo/John Locher)

A few months ago, I had a visitor come to my office.

The unnamed party was upset at the current political climate not only in Starkville, but in the country.

After lambasting certain liberal institutions, the reader poked me firm in the chest and insisted we “watch them Muslims on campus.”

His fears rested on the potential for violence, asserting mosques and Muslim organizations served only to undermine the Christian values that form what he viewed as the foundation of our democracy. The fears voiced centered on the notion that only those who ascribe to the tenants of radical Islam are capable of committing mass murder.

To each their own, right?

Now, I’m a firm believer in the importance of respecting the opinions of others - no matter how misguided I may think them to be. However, recent events only serve to highlight the need for many to re-examine the rhetoric they cling so tightly to.

On Sunday night, a lone-wolf shooter killed more than 50 people and injured over 500 at a country music festival in Las Vegas. It went down as the deadliest mass-shooting in this country’s history.

The gunman - 64-year-old Stephen Paddock - was identified as a white man with no confirmed ties to any extremist groups from home or abroad. This could change, but the pain caused by his unprecedented act of violence will surely be felt for a long time to come, regardless of his motives or affiliation.

Many fear-mongers will continue to insist a travel ban or border wall would protect this country from terrorists and murderers - or someone like Alex Jones may claim it is all a false flag operation to allow the government to take your guns.

However, history tells us we should look within our own borders for the source of much of this danger.

Is the source of these increasingly common acts of violence a result of ideology? Is it mental illness? Or is it something unseen, endemic to the American condition?

While I can’t personally answer that, I did want to provide a breakdown of the deadliest domestic terrorist/mass shootings in U.S. history to let you decide just who we as Americans should be afraid of.

You can be the judge of what could drive someone to commit such an utterly heinous act, but I think it is incumbent upon us as freedom-loving Americans to first consider what we know about the history of mass shootings before we blame one group or the other.

Editor’s note: I will omit acts not involving guns, which would leave out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (nearly 3,000 killed, 6,000+ injured), the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh (168 killed, 680 injured), Eric Robert Rudolph, AKA the Olympic Park Bomber, (two killed, 120 injured in bombings in Georgia and Alabama) and Ted Kaczynksi, AKA the Unabomber (3 killed, 23 injured).

• Omar Mateen - born in New Hyde Park, New York in 1986. Killed 49 and wounded 58 in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016. The American-born Mateen had been investigated for his connections to radical Islam. Family speculates he suffered from a mental illness.

• Seung-Hui Cho - born in the city of Asan, in South Korea’s South Chungcheong Province in 1984. Killed 33 (including himself) and injured 17 in a mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in April 2007. Prior to the shooting, Cho was diagnosed with a mental illness.

• Adam Lanza - born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1992. Lanza killed 28 (including himself and his mother) and injured two in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012. Lanza had a documented history of mental illness.

• George Hennard - born in Sayre, Pennsylvania in 1956. Hennard killed 24 (including himself) and injured 27 at a restaurant in Killeen, Texas in October 1991.

• James Huberty - born in Canton, Ohio in 1942. Killed 21 and injured 19 in 1984 at a Mcdonald’s restaurant in the San Diego neighborhood of San Ysidro, in California. Huberty had a history of domestic violence and family members suspected mental illness played a role in the mass shooting. Huberty was killed by a SWAT sniper.

• Charles Whitman - born in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1941 - Whitman killed 17 and injured 31 in a mass shooting from a bell tower on the University of Texas at Austin campus in 1966. Whitman described in a letter he believed he suffered from a mental illness. He was killed in a shootout with police.

• Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - Harris, born in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas and Klebold, born in Lakewood, Colorado in 1981, were the two spree killers responsible for the Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999. The two teenagers killed eight people and injured 24. Both committed suicide following the shooting.

• Patrick Sherrill - born in Watonga, Oklahoma in 1941. Sherrill, a postal worker, killed 14 co-workers and injured six others, before committing suicide in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.

• Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik - Farook was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1987 - Malik was born in Karor Lal Esan, Pakistan, in 1986. Farook and Malik killed 14 and injured 24 in a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California in December 2015. An FBI investigation found the couple was inspired by foreign Islamic terrorist organizations. Both were killed in a shootout with police.

• Nidal Malik Hasan - born in Arlington County, Virginia, in 1970. A psychiatrist for the U.S. Army, Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 30 in a shooting on a military base at Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan showed interest in Islamic extremism. He was given the death penalty and is currently incarcerated at United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

• Dylann Roof - born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1994. He killed nine and injured one in a church shooting in Charleston in June 2015. He is currently on death row in South Carolina.

• James Holmes - born in San Diego, California in 1987. He killed 12 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012. He was diagnosed with a mental illness. He was sentenced to 12 life sentences without the possibility of parole.

I personally believe the only thing tying these killers together is the fact they are each wholly individual and different in their backgrounds and motives, which should underscore the notion that one group shouldn’t be considered more of a threat than another.

Rather, rogue elements of any ideology can present the danger we all fear.

While I’m not a criminal psychologist and do not pretend to be, I do hope in the wake of the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, a dialogue can finally begin as to how we can prevent these kind of acts before people are inspired to commit them.

Whether it be increased attention given to mental health reform, closing the gun show loophole or keeping a close watch for violent extremism, we must first take a long look at ourselves in the mirror and think about if we are really doing all we can to promote a safe society for all.

For people like the visitor who told me we should “watch them Muslims,” though, I believe our attention is better spent thinking critically about how our actions as a society might contribute to the ramping up of violence, instead of marginalizing a group when our fears become manifested through the senseless act of an individual.

But on the other hand, maybe it’s you we should be watching.