Mass shooters are not disproportionately white and aren't more likely to survive because of police favoritism

In case you’ve forgotten some of the knee-jerk responses to the Boulder shooting, let me remind you. Here’s a Deadspin editor bringing up a “white man with an AR-15” and a USA Today editor replying “It’s always an angry white man. Always.” (She was fired over that tweet.)

There’s clearly a narrative about angry white men with guns that these people are leaning into. And it’s not just a handful of snarky leftists with blue check marks. As I pointed out, some of the tweets about the shooter’s race were liked by tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.

Today, Megan McArdle looked at the actual data on mass shootings and she concludes the narrative about white shooters and white supremacy disproportionately driving mass shootings is false.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, maintains a database in collaboration with USA Today and the Associated Press that covers all mass shootings in the United States since 2006. When I asked him to analyze the data around incidents such as the Boulder massacre, he confirmed that about 55 percent of perpetrators in such incidents had been reported as White. (In some cases, race was unreported). Using a different dataset that ran from 1976 to 2019, with more inclusive criteria for inferring race, Fox found that some 64 percent of shooters were White…

Most mass shootings are committed by adult men, and census data shows that about 67 percent of adult men in the United States are non-Hispanic Whites. So it appears that the number of White men committing these crimes is close to what we’d expect from pure chance, maybe even slightly lower — the opposite of what we’d see if white supremacy culture were at fault.

How about the related claim that police are more likely to arrest rather than kill a mass shooter if they are white. That also appears to be false. It’s true that police are less likely to kill white mass shooters but that’s only because white mass shooters are more likely to kill themselves.

White attackers do seem less likely to be shot by police. According to Fox, five of the 87 public mass shooting attacks in the database involved White shooters who were killed by police. During that same period, 10 non-White shooters were killed, as were five others whose race was unknown.

Yet that doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that Whites are more likely to be apprehended alive in these public massacres; apparently, White shooters more often commit suicide before police can get to them. Overall, Whites are both half of those who commit mass shootings and also about half of those who die during their crime.

You can’t really blame the police for not killing mass shooters who are already dead when they get to them.

So these messages that were sent out by thousands of people and liked by hundreds of thousands more are just not true. And yet they are out there, ahead of the evidence, distorting the reality of these situations for millions of people who see these comments on social media.

What is happening here would be quickly identified as racial stereotyping it it were being directed at any other racial group because that’s exactly what this is. As for why so many people believe this, I suspect it’s the same reason so many people still believe “Hands up, don’t shoot” happened. Whether it’s true or not, it fits their political preconceptions about race and about the police.