How suicide prevention may help stop mass killers before they start shooting

Unlike most of America who woke up last Sunday stunned to hear the news of a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio just hours after the devastating carnage in El Paso, Texas, Lori Post wasn’t surprised. The Northwestern University epidemiologist and sociologist studies violence, with a focus on the motivations of mass shooters.

Post’s research shows that the days between what she calls “massacres” have been steadily decreasing over the past few decades. In a grim support of her data, the Dayton and El Paso mass killings were the third in a week, following the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which left two children and an adult dead.

“It was just a matter of time for two to hit the same day,” she told NBC News.

Post’s work is part of a growing field science to discover predictive risk factors for mass killings and consider a range of solutions, including those from the arenas of medicine and public health. Psychologist Jillian Peterson, one of the founders of the Violence Project, a nonpartisan think tank, has created a database of mass shooters from 1966 to 2018 to look for trends and patterns.

With President Donald Trump and Washington lawmakers expressing support for new gun control measures, including “red flag laws” to allow courts and police to confiscate firearms from people believed to be a threat to themselves or others, Peterson’s research has identified several key characteristics common among most mass shooters.

A potent predictor Peterson’s database has revealed is suicide: the shooters are almost always suicidal. Her latest analysis shows that 80 percent of the perpetrators were suicidal before the shooting, which she says it is key to understanding their actions.