Marie Wright, Ph.D., CHS-V
It may be too easy to forget how many times mass shootings have occurred in the United States. The aggregate becomes obscured by the details of the most recent incident, while the number of events and the casualty count continue to rise.
Within the past three decades, there have been more than sixty mass shootings that have unfolded in thirty states across the nation (Follman, Aronsen, & Pan, 2013). According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2005), a mass shooting is one in which the shooter murdered four or more individuals in an ongoing incident, within a single location. Many of the deadliest mass shootings have occurred within the past six years (The New York Times, 2012), and the two most lethal incidents have occurred at schools.
Deadliest Mass Shootings in the United States
The twelve deadliest mass shootings in the United States, summarized below, are presented in descending order according to the number killed. Each incident, and the weapons used, are described as accurately as possible using information obtained from publicly available sources.
At approximately 7:00 AM on April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, age 23, entered West Ambler Johnston dormitory (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He shot and killed two students, then returned to his dormitory to change out of his bloody clothes. At approximately 9:40 AM, he entered Norris Hall and began shooting at students and faculty in classrooms on the second floor (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). The rampage, during which thirty more people were killed and seventeen wounded, lasted until approximately 9:51 AM, when Cho committed suicide (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Although his motives remain unclear, Cho had a long history of mental and physical illness, depression, and selective mutism, and he wrote disturbing papers for his classes, which included fantasies about the Columbine High School shooting. (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Cho used a GLOCK 19 9mm semiautomatic pistol and a Walther P22 .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol to carry out his massacre (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Investigators found a total of seventeen empty magazines at the scene of the shooting, and a mix of several 15-round and 10-round magazines loaded with hollow-point rounds – bullets with the tip hollowed out, designed to expand upon impact (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He possessed over 400 rounds of ammunition (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Cho ordered the Walther P22 from a website operated by TGSCOM, Inc. (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He picked up the pistol from J-N-D Pawn-brokers, located across the street from the Virginia Tech campus, on February 9, 2007. In compliance with Virginia state law that limits handgun purchases to one every thirty days, Cho purchased the GLOCK 19 on March 13, 2007 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He also purchased five 10-round magazines from eBay in March (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Cho’s purchase of the firearms was in violation of federal law because he was disqualified from purchasing or possessing a firearm and ammunition; a special justice of the Montgomery County General District Court had found him to be a danger to himself on December 14, 2005 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Sometime before 9:30 AM on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, killed his mother in her home in Newtown, Connecticut. After shooting her multiple times in the head, he loaded her car with firearms and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He shot his way into the school and in less than five minutes, fired more than 154 shots (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Twenty students, all between the ages of 6 and 7, and six adults were killed. As police closed in, Lanza committed suicide (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15 .223-caliber semiautomatic assault rifle equipped with a 30-round large capacity ammunition magazine, a GLOCK 10mm handgun, and a .22-caliber rifle to conduct his slaughter (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). According to the Danbury (Connecticut) State’s Attorney, police also discovered a SIG SAUER P226 9mm handgun and three loaded 30-round large capacity ammunition magazines for the Bushmaster in Lanza’s possession (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Six additional 30-round large capacity ammunition magazines were recovered at the scene (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). A 12-gauge shotgun was found in the passenger compartment of Lanza’s car (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). All of the guns used in the shooting were legally purchased by Lanza’s mother.
At 12:45 PM on October 16, 1991, George Hennard, age 35, crashed his pickup truck into Luby’s Cafeteria, a popular and inexpensive restaurant. He stepped out of his vehicle and began shooting, firing approximately 100 shots in ten minutes, and leaving twenty-three dead and twenty injured (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). After being wounded by police officers, Hennard shot himself in the head. His motives remain unclear, but neighbors described him as “combative and unstable” (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Hennard used a GLOCK 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, a Ruger P89 semiautomatic pistol, and 17-round and 15-round large capacity ammunition magazines to carry out his rampage (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He legally purchased the weapons from Mike’s Gun Shop in Henderson, Nevada, in February and March of 1991 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
In mid-afternoon on July 18, 1984, James Huberty, age 41, left home, telling his wife, “I’m going hunting...hunting for humans” (This Day in History, 2013c). At 3:40 PM, he entered a McDonald’s in south San Diego, two miles from the Mexico border, and began shooting. Armed with multiple firearms and 25-round large capacity ammunition magazines, he spent the next seventy-seven minutes calmly firing 257 rounds (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Before being killed by a police sharpshooter, he’d executed twenty-one people and wounded nineteen others.
Huberty was armed with a Browning P-35 9mm semiautomatic pistol, a Winchester 1200 pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, an Israeli Military Industries 9mm Model A Carbine (Uzi), and 25-round large capacity ammunition magazines (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). The shooting was so intense that law enforcement initially assumed that there was more than one gunman inside the restaurant (This Day in History, 2013c). It wasn’t until after an employee managed to escape and inform the SWAT team that Huberty was alone and without hostages that a police sniper was able to fire the fatal shot (This Day in History, 2013c).
The night of July 31, 1966, Charles Whitman, age 25, went to his mother’s apartment in Austin, where he stabbed and shot her to death. When he returned to his own home in Austin, he stabbed his wife to death. He left notes near both of their bodies, describing his repressed violence, general depression, severe headaches, and overt hatred for his father (Houston Chronicle, 2001).
The next morning, on his way to the University of Texas in Austin, he stopped by a local gun store to buy boxes of ammunition and a carbine (This Day in History, 2013b). He proceeded to the 28th-floor observation deck atop the library tower, and at 11:55 AM, he began shooting (Houston Chronicle, 2001). A former Marine and an expert marksman, Whitman was able to hit passersby from as far away as 500 yards (This Day in History, 2013b). His rampage continued for more than eighty minutes, until he was shot and killed by an Austin policeman.
Whitman was armed with two high-powered 30-06 rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, and a .357-Magnum pistol to carry out his slaughter (Houston Chronicle, 2001).
At about 7:00 AM on August 20, 1986, Patrick Sherrill, age 44, walked into the Edmond Post Office wearing his postal uniform. He was an employee there, and he had had a history of discipline problems on the job. Without saying a word, he began shooting, systematically walking through the building, closing and locking the doors behind him, pausing only to reload his guns (Mullin, 2006). Within fifteen minutes, he fired some fifty rounds of ammunition, killing fourteen and wounding six (Mullin, 2006). When the SWAT team arrived, Sherrill put a gun to his own head and pulled the trigger (Bovson, 2010).
Sherrill was a former Marine and a skilled sharpshooter. At the time of his rampage, he was a member of the Oklahoma National Guard, where he was an instructor and a member of the marksmanship team (Bovson, 2010). He used three handguns the day he “went postal”: two .45-caliber Colt Model 1911-A1 semiautomatic handguns that were the property of the National Guard, and his own .22-caliber handgun (Bovson, 2010).
On the morning of April 20, 1999, Eric Harris, age 18, and Dylan Klebold, age 17, entered Columbine High School. They placed two propane bombs in the cafeteria, then returned to their cars to await detonation, planning to shoot the fleeing survivors. When the bombs failed to detonate, Harris and Klebold gathered their guns and large capacity ammunition magazines, and approached the school’s west entrance (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). At approximately 11:19 AM, they began shooting at students outside the school, killing two. They entered the school and began shooting at random, killing a teacher in a classroom, and eventually proceeding to the library where they killed ten and injured twelve more. Leaving the library, they continued to wander about the school, occasionally firing through the windows at law enforcement (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Shortly after noon, they turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide (This Day in History, 2013a).
Harris and Klebold had a Savage Springfield 67H 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a Savage Stevens 311D 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, a Hi-Point 995 9mm semiautomatic rifle, an INTRATEC TEC-DC9 9mm semiautomatic pistol, and thirteen 10-round magazines, one 52-, one 32-, and one 28-round large capacity ammunition magazines (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). They illegally acquired the shotguns and Hi-Point rifle through a “straw purchase” – a transaction in which a legal buyer makes a purchase for someone who cannot legally purchase the firearm (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Their friend, Robyn Anderson, purchased the three firearms at the Tanner Gun Show from unlicensed sellers in December 1998 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). A pizza shop employee, Mark Manes, illegally sold them the INTRATEC TEC-DC9 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Shortly before 10:30 AM on April 3, 2009, Jiverly Wong, age 41, drove a borrowed car against the back entrance of the American Civic Association building, barricading the door. He approached the front of the immigration center, walked through the front entrance, and without speaking, began shooting. He opened fire on two secretaries, killing one and wounding the other. The surviving secretary feigned death, and after Wong moved away, she called 911 (McFadden, 2009). Wong entered the first room, a citizenship class, and resumed firing (McFadden, 2009). He killed twelve and wounded three others before turning his gun on himself (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). In a matter of minutes, Wong had fired ninety-nine shots. His motives remain unclear; however, in a letter he wrote a month prior to the attack, he indicated frustration both with the police and with his lack of employment (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Wong used a Beretta .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a Beretta 9mm semiautomatic pistol (models unknown), two 30-round large capacity ammunition magazines and two 15-round large capacity ammunition magazines (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He had a New York State pistol license that listed the two handguns (McFadden, 2009).
At about 1:20 PM on November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39 year-old U.S. Army psychiatrist, walked into a medical processing facility on base and began shooting. In a rampage that lasted for about four minutes, he fired approximately 214 shots, killing thirteen and wounding thirty more (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). After running outside of the building to chase down a wounded soldier, Hasan was confronted by a police officer, who managed to stop Hasan with a shot to the torso (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Hasan was paralyzed from the waist down. He was charged with thirteen counts of premeditated murder and thirty-two counts of attempted murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013a).
There were concerns that Hasan had become radicalized prior to the Fort Hood shooting. He was reported to have communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and terrorist leader in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Hasan also was allegedly upset about soldiers harassing him for being a Muslim, and worried about being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013a).
Hasan was armed with an FN Herstal 5.7 Tactical Pistol equipped with a 20-round large capacity ammunition magazine (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He had legally purchased the pistol from “Guns Galore” in Killeen, TX (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). When Hasan was apprehended, investigators found in his possession 177-rounds in 30-round and 20-round large capacity ammunition magazines, another handgun, a revolver, and two gun sights for different lighting conditions (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
At 9:20 AM on September 6, 1949, Howard Unruh, age 28 and a veteran of World War II, stepped out of his apartment and took a twenty-minute “Walk of Death” through his neighborhood, impassively shooting his neighbors (Goldstein, 2009). Thirteen died and three were wounded. Following Unruh’s arrest, law enforcement found 700 cartridges and a book called The Shooter’s Bible in his apartment (Goldstein, 2009). He had apparently used the basement of the apartment building for target practice (Goldstein, 2009).
Unruh used a 9mm German Luger pistol that he had purchased at a Philadelphia gun shop in January 1947 (Goldstein, 2009).
Unruh was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. A psychiatric report stated that he thought his neighbors believed he was a homosexual, and the report described him as “a master of suppressed rage” (Goldstein, 2009). He was committed to the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, a state mental institution, for the rest of his life, never having stood trial. He died on October 19, 2009, at the age of 88 (Goldstein, 2009).
In the early morning hours of September 25, 1982, George Banks, age 40, shot and killed his three girlfriends and five children, four of them his own, in his home in Wilkes-Barre. Immediately after the shootings, he confronted four teenagers outside his home, killing one and injuring two (International Justice Project, 2010). He stole a car, drove to a nearby trailer park, and shot another girlfriend, the child he had fathered with her, her mother, and her nephew (International Justice Project, 2010). In forty-five minutes, Banks killed thirteen people, including five of his own children. He used an M-16 rifle and an AR-15 automatic rifle to carry out his slaughter (Sisak, 2012).
For more than five years before the shootings took place, Banks maintained fixed delusions of racial conspiracies and persecution that escalated into an obsession about imminent race wars and uprisings (International Justice Project, 2010). During his arrest, Banks told police that “he killed his children to spare them from the racial prejudice that he experienced as a child” (International Justice Project, 2010).
Although Banks was diagnosed with paranoid psychosis, he was convicted in June 1983 on a number of charges, including twelve counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, and one count of attempted murder (Sisak, 2012). He was on death row until 2010, when he was rendered mentally incompetent to be executed and his death sentence was overturned (Sisak, 2012). He remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, PA.
Fifteen minutes into the midnight premiere screening of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012, James Holmes, age 24, entered the Century Aurora 16 movie theatre through an emergency exit (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Wearing body armor, a tactical helmet, and a gas mask, he tossed two canisters of tear gas into the theater, then began shooting (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He used an AR-15-type assault rifle until it jammed, then continued firing with a 12-gauge shotgun (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Within minutes, he fired more than seventy shots, killing twelve and wounding fifty-eight. Holmes was arrested in the theatre’s rear parking lot within seven minutes of the first 911 calls from moviegoers (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He did not resist arrest.
A Smith and Wesson .223-caliber AR-15-type assault rifle equipped with a 100-round drum large capacity ammunition magazine, a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 pump shotgun, and two GLOCK .40-caliber handguns, were recovered at the scene by police (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Holmes had purchased the weapons and 6,000-rounds of ammunition at gun shops and over the Internet in the months before the shooting (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). In addition, Holmes rigged trip wire throughout his apartment to detonate thirty plastic shells stuffed with gunpowder, several glass jars filled with gasoline and gunpowder, and ten gallons of gasoline in canisters (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b).
Holmes appeared before the District Court of Arapahoe County, CO, on July 30, 2012 (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). He was charged with twenty-four counts of murder in the first degree (two counts for each of the twelve victims killed); 116 counts of attempted murder in the first degree (two counts for each of the fifty-eight victims injured); one count of possession of explosive or incendiary devices; and one count of unlawful use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a violent crime (Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, 2013b). Holmes remains in prison while awaiting trial. Since his incarceration, he has converted to Islam, purportedly using the Muslim faith as a way of justifying his killings (Chasmar, 2013). On May 13, 2013, Holmes’ attorneys entered a not guilty plea by reason of insanity (TMZ, 2013). A psychiatric evaluation was conducted at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo during the summer of 2013. On February 19, 2014, Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ruled that Holmes must undergo a second psychiatric evaluation at the same state mental hospital because the first evaluation was “incomplete and inadequate” (Associated Press, 2014). Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Holmes, and jury selection is scheduled to start on October 14, 2014. The trial, expected to start in early 2015, is anticipated to last five months (Elliott, 2014).
It is possible to design guns to be safer. In fact, this has already been done. Safety enhancing technologies exist that can be incorporated into guns to prevent both intentional and unintentional shootings (McCarthy, 2013). These technologies make guns safer, in the same way that seat belts and airbags make motor vehicles safer. The technologies needed to develop smart guns, or personalized firearms, have been studied for almost two decades.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, several gun manufacturers, including Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, Smith & Wesson, FN Manufacturing, Inc., and Mossberg & Sons, Inc., established smart gun development programs (McCarthy, 2013). In 1998, Colt’s built a 9mm semiautomatic smart gun prototype with the help of a $500,000 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) research grant (Peterson, 1998). Embedded in the pistol grip was a microchip that used radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the form of a radio wrist transponder to prevent unauthorized users from firing the weapon (McCarthy, 2013).
In 2000, NIJ awarded multi-million dollar grants to Smith & Wesson and FN Manufacturing, Inc. to research and develop smart gun technologies. Smith & Wesson used its award “to support feasibility and functionality tests of an electronic fire handgun with a code-based combination lock and a separate fingerprint module that communicates with an electric fire handgun, as well as an analysis of existing Smith & Wesson technologies and design of the next generation prototype. FN Manufacturing, Inc. used its grant to further the research, development, and testing of its smart gun prototype, which uses embedded microelectronics to disable the firearm from use by an unauthorized user” (National Institute of Justice, 2000).
In 2002, Mossberg received a $299,389 NIJ grant to support the development of the iGun™ (National Institute of Justice, 2002), a shotgun that could be used only when the owner had a special ring in close proximity to the gun (Suciu, 2013). When the iGun™ sensed that the ring was near enough, it compared a unique code from the ring to the gun. If the codes matched and certain other conditions were met, an electric current from the battery activated a mechanism to unblock the trigger (McCarthy, 2013).
Over the course of two decades, NIJ spent millions of dollars on grants for research institutions and gun manufacturers to perfect a personalized firearm (Kaminsky, 2012). The impetus behind NIJ’s support for smart gun research and development did not originate from the mass shootings that had occurred, but rather from a perceived need to more safely and reliably secure law enforcement weapons (National Institute of Justice, 2000). According to FBI data compiled during the decade of the 1990s, 113 weapons were stolen from law enforcement officers, and fifty-seven police officers were killed with their own weapons (National Institute of Justice, 2000).
There were concerns about the reliability of the technology in the 1990s and early 2000s, which was then in its infancy (Geller, 2013; Peterson, 1998). These concerns, along with the political battles between ardent gun advocates and gun foes, and the lack of demand by the general public, sidelined further smart gun development efforts by major firearms manufacturers in the United States. For most of the past decade, the work of developing reliable and marketable smart guns was left to academic researchers and foreign companies.
Further Developments in Smart Guns
Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have created a working prototype of a smart gun that uses biometrics to recognize the grip of its owner. It measures the individually unique and dynamically changing pattern of hand pressures on the stock of the gun (Bobkoff, 2013). The military appears interested in this smart gun, which has a 99% success rate (Kaminsky, 2012). NJIT is in negotiations with officials at Picatinny Arsenal, a U.S. Army research and manufacturing facility in New Jersey (Geller, 2013). To date, there has been no real interest expressed by gun manufacturers to commercialize this gun (Kaminsky, 2012).
Two European companies working on personalized firearm technology have their eyes on the U.S. market: TriggerSmart Ltd. of Limerick, Ireland, and Armatix GmbH of Unterfoehring, Germany (Geller, 2013). TriggerSmart has patented a system that uses RFID technology to enable and disable a gun (Whiteside, 2013). An RFID chip the size of a grain of rice is in the gun handle (Geller, 2013). A corresponding RFID chip that activates the gun is in the authorized shooter’s ring or bracelet, or could be implanted in the shooter’s hand. If the two chips are not within an inch or two of each other, the gun trigger will not unlock (McCarthy, 2013).
Armatix also has developed a personalized firearm based on RFID technology. Its “Smart System,” which was approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 2011 (Geller, 2013), uses a radio-controlled watch that is responsible for gun access and use (Armatix, 2013). The watch is activated by means of a personal identification number (PIN). The smart gun will only shoot if it is within close proximity to this watch. If the gun loses radio contact with the watch (e.g., if the gun is knocked out of the authorized shooter’s hand), the smart gun immediately deactivates (Armatix, 2013). Armatix already sells these personalized firearms in Europe and Asia (Whiteside, 2013).
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the technologies necessary to make smart guns have received renewed attention (Bobkoff, 2013). On March 14, 2013, leaders in the technology investment community announced new funding initiatives to reduce gun violence with technology (Farber, 2013). A group of more than twenty Silicon Valley venture capitalists, including Ron Conway (special adviser to the San Francisco-based SV Angel investment firm), Vinod Khosla (Sun Microsystems co-founder), Zack Bogue (husband of Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer), and David Sze (an early investor in and director of companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn), announced plans to work with the Sandy Hook Promise Technology Committee to Reduce Gun Violence (Carlton, 2013; Richman, 2013). Within the next year, as much as $15 million in seed funding could be invested in almost two dozen startup companies to support initiatives in safe gun technologies, including electronic firing pins, RFID, biometrics, and enhanced software systems (Farber, 2013).
Smart guns might not prevent all gun violence, but they could decrease the number of mass shootings, as well as lower the number of youth suicides, accidental shootings, and deaths from stolen weapons (Bobkoff, 2013; Whiteside, 2013). The use of safety enhancing technologies is an important step toward making guns more secure, and lessening the risk of gun violence.
Marie Wright, Ph.D., CHS-V, is a Professor of Management Information Systems at Western Connecticut State University. She received her Ph.D. in Information and Control Systems from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has been actively involved in the fields of information security and information assurance for more than twenty-five years. She has authored dozens of articles and several book chapters, and she hasco-authored two books. She has served as a review board member for federal government agencies, and she is a member of several professional security associations. She also livesless than ten miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
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