An examination of the phenomenon of mass shootings in America and an urgent call to implement evidence-based strategies to stop these tragedies
Using data from the writers’ groundbreaking research on mass shooters, including first-person accounts from the perpetrators themselves, The Violence Project charts new pathways to prevention and innovative ways to stop the social contagion of violence.
Frustrated by reactionary policy conversations that never seemed to convert into meaningful action, special investigator and psychologist Jill Peterson and sociologist James Densley built "The Violence Project," the first comprehensive database of mass shooters. Their goal was to establish the root causes of mass shootings and figure out how to stop them by examining hundreds of data points in the life histories of more than 170 mass shooters—from their childhood and adolescence to their mental health and motives. They also interviewed the living perpetrators of mass shootings and people who knew them, shooting survivors, victims’ families, first responders, and leading experts to gain a comprehensive firsthand understanding of the real stories behind them, rather than the sensationalized media narratives that too often prevail.
For the first time, instead of offering "thoughts and prayers" for the victims of these crimes, Peterson and Densley share their data-driven solutions for exactly what we must do, at the individual level, in our communities, and as a country, to put an end to these tragedies that have defined our modern era.
Some brief notes: - I read this/heard about it because it's up for the Minnesota Book Award. - I don't want to diminish the actual research and outreach the authors are working on, because it sounds more complex, but the book itself gave me Ted Talk vibes. - The reason I cannot fathom giving this more than three stars (and tbh I think three stars is being generous) is that the authors refuse to discuss the fact that well over 90% of mass shooters are men. They are aware of it of course, but they just handwave it away by saying this component is too mysteriously complex. Like, they can get all granular about ACEs and medication and whatever else, but when it comes to gender we get a big shrug. I believe this choice obscures the problem and naturalizes male violence, the opposite of what the authors want to do with this book. Likewise, that mass shooters almost always hit their wives, stalk their ex girlfriends, or otherwise perpetrate intimate partner and/or domestic violence prior to mass shooting is glossed over.
'The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic' is not an entertaining read on a cozy couch after a hard workday. Started as psychological research by Jillian Peterson and James Densley in 2018, it grew into a unique research center that contains the one and only whole database of American mass shooters till the present day. Travels and interviews across America enabled the researchers to collect stories from perpetrators and survivors, victims' families, and law enforcement workers. Stories, in their turn, were analyzed from the mathematical and statistical viewpoints, explaining the origins of mass violence and creating a pathway to solutions on multiple levels: individual, institutional, and societal.
To learn more, please visit the project's website www.theviolenceproject.org or Twitter/Instagram accounts @theviolencepro The database is free for download and substantive analysis.
The site also contains downloadable protocols for building a crisis team at a workplace and a list of organizations that dedicate themselves to preventing mass violence.
The book is a summary of a three-year research. Chapter by chapter, the researchers debunk myths, created by social and mass media. Monsters, as they are conventionally called, are not born overnight but had been shaped during a long period of time by causes inside and outside their families. People around them might have sensed that something bad was about to happen, yet they didn’t possess techniques to avoid the disaster. The perpetrators needed guidance, yet they were not able to reach the resources that could provide help.
Despite the growing numbers of victims of mass shootings, the researchers see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's a hope that through their findings, people would be able to prevent mass violence using kindness instead of prosecution and isolation.
I'd recommend the book (and the website) for people who would like to learn about the psychological causes of violence. However, due to the mathematical approach, a mass reader could find himself/herself struggling with reading.
I began this book less than 24 hours after the Uvalde shooting and I would like to write a proper report when I have collected myself later. All I can say for now is that there is hope, with this book giving you opportunities at both the individual and institutional level to prevent mass shootings.
So much important information in this book it is a must read for any American who cares about our future and our dangerous acceptance of cultural violence in all its forms. The focus is how to stop mass shootings, but not surprisingly, the societal safety nets or layers needed to stop mass shootings are also imperative for healthy thriving communities where human beings are valued, supported, and protected. Please read.
There's really no question that I am the desired market for Jillian Peterson and James Densley's engaging and informative "The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic."
"The Violence Project" is borne out of the frustration both Peterson and Densley felt over the reactionary policies and actions often birthed out of yet another mass shooting. These policies and actions never really were converted into meaningful action and, of course, inevitably we would be having the same discussions after the next mass shooting.
As a book, "The Violence Project" is a refreshingly engaging and well-informed journey toward charting new pathways to prevention and innovative ways to stop the contagion of violence.
Peterson is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. She has led large-scale studies on mental illness and crime, school shootings, and mass violence.
Densley is a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University who is known for his international work on gangs, criminal networks, violent extremism, and policing.
Together, they created The Violence Project. The Violence Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center known worldwide for its work on mass shooting prevention.
This points, perhaps, to the reason that "The Violence Project" reads so beautifully yet powerfully. While it is not what I'd call apolitical, it is unquestionably nonpartisan. There is a tendency in even the best books around the subject of violence to end up taking sides. Perhaps because they are researchers, Peterson and Densley instead focus squarely on the issue itself and avoid the taking of sides. In fact, many of the ideas and solutions presented in "The Violence Project" are surprisingly devoid of political angles or preachiness. In place of partisanship, Peterson and Densley infuse "The Violence Project" with research, interviews with perpetrators themselves (many of whom were surprisingly cooperative with the research), and extensive studies regarding the impact of certain preventative measures.
In many ways, I was delighted by how incredibly matter-of-fact is the writing in "The Violence Project." At times, I could picture Peterson and Densley before me with this look of "No, really. This works and we can prove it."
It's not often that I read a book about violence or gun violence or mass shootings and end up feeling empowered, but such is the case here. I felt empowered after reading "The Violence Project."
I've spent a good majority of my life as an activist in the area of violence prevention having started out in the area of child abuse prevention before broadening into domestic violence and having a strong focus on violence involving children. The rhetoric is hot and heavy - especially if one brings in issues such as gun law reform. "The Violence Project" is well-researched and it's also accessible in terms of its language and literary style. As a project, The Violence Project is the first comprehensive database of mass shooters. The project has moved Peterson and Densley closer toward their vision of establishing the root causes of mass shootings and figuring out how to stop them by examining the data points in the lives of perpetrators. In "The Violence Project," they interview perpetrators, those who knew/know the perpetrators, victims' families, first responders, and recognized experts to gain an understanding of the real stories underneath the sensationalized media. Rather than "thoughts and prayers," Peterson and Densley have come up with data-driven solutions.
Both intellectually challenging and emotionally resonant, "The Violence Project" is a mandatory read for those concerned about the cycle of violence, and in this case mass shootings, and those who consider them to be inevitable.
Mass shootings are not inevitable. Peterson and Densley have proven it.
It’s 190 some pages so there’s zero excuse not to read it. You have kids in public schools? Read it. You regularly in public settings? Read it. You live in America? Read it.
Before this book I would have said I was moderately educated on the topic of gun violence in the US. Wow was I wrong. I have learned so much and look forward to using the resources the book provided to learn more.
This book was incredibly thoughtful and respectful on multiple levels. It is so important for people to read this so hopefully we can adjust some of our personal behaviors and better navigate this regular American experience.
If you’re like me, you’re feeling enraged, exhausted, helpless, hopeless, and totally fed up with yet another mass shooting in this country. I cannot wrap my mind around this horrific pattern that keeps cycling through our towns and cities. I was especially devastated by the recent racially motivated shooting in my beloved hometown of Buffalo. Like many, I never, ever thought it would happen “at home”.
I decided to search for books on the subject of mass shootings/gun violence to educate myself and give my brain something concrete to process while I attempt to cope with this never-ending epidemic plaguing our country.
Together, Peterson and Densley created The Violence Project: a nonpartisan nonprofit research center dedicated to reducing gun violence and prevention of mass shootings. They have done extensive research and created the only database of all mass shooters in the U.S.
The authors cover a gamut of information and topics in an easy to follow and reader-friendly way. They review some of the mass shootings that have taken place, and the childhoods and family lives of the perpetrators. A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of mental health, crisis intervention, providing adequate resources for mental health, support for children and teens in schools, recognizing warning signs, and getting kids the help they need. They also touch on gun laws, accessibility to guns, and the changes that can be made in regards to firearms to avoid future mass shootings.
Peterson and Densley outline a roadmap of sorts that if followed, has great potential in preventing these shootings from continuing. I couldn’t argue with anything proposed in this book. It was enlightening, informative, and oddly enough, hopeful. I will say though- it all sounds amazing in theory; if only their pathways and solutions could fully come to fruition. This country would be a much better place!
If you are concerned with mass shootings, gun violence, school violence, the intersection of mental health and guns, please read this book. Based on extensive data and research, this book de-escalates the political discourse around guns to show the common components of mass shootings, and importantly, offers concrete, research-based, steps to stop them. They freely share their data. The researchers also conducted interviews with a handful of mass shooters, to dig into their past and learn what brought them to that point. I learned so much from this book, and it corrected some misperceptions I had been carrying. It reinforced the importance of media literacy, of building a caring community, of having some crisis response strategies in place, and of the need to implement consistent, enforced gun laws. The shared image of releasing just a little air from the balloon to avert the crisis is one I will always carry with me. This is a readable, important book. Their website is also excellent and offers violence prevention training modules for both school and the workplace.
The Violence Project was started by Dr. Jillian Peterson and Dr. James Densley in an effort to understand what drives mass shootings. This book reflects their research after interviewing many mass shooters and their community, asking about their past and what led to the shooting event.
As a teacher, this book was personal. I keep my classroom doors locked in fear that a shooter could come into the school any day. On a weekly basis, I strategize what i will do if we have a shooting lockdown, how I will protect the children. It is important for our society to face the issues below head on or nothing will change.
Cultural Factors: 1. Availability of Guns in America 2. Individualism and Patriarchy - If you’re a white male who is supposedly given everything by right but doesn’t end up where you want to be, violence is the option for many. “America’s mythical code of self-reliance is implicated in high suicide rates, because there is a point where self-reliance becomes isolation. Our research shows that mass shootings are linked to suicides and may even be a form of them.” 3. Lack of Institutional Trust - To me, one of the most worrying quotes in this book was “If people feel society is unfair, then they are less inclined to play by the rules.” They went on to show that anytime there is less trust in the government as an institution, murder rates go up. 4. Icel/Misogynistic Online Hate Groups - In these online groups, lonely young men find an echo chamber for their own feelings of hopelessness and become radicalized to the idea of violence against perceived threats.
Personal Factors: 1. Trauma - many violent tendencies start with abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) in childhood. Long term “toxic stress” changes the brains of children and gives them a warped view of the world. 2. A State of Crisis close to the time of the shooting - debt, firing, end of a relationship, psychotic break…
Solutions: 1. Crisis Centers and School Intervention - Research has shown that “Social Emotional Learning” in schools can help alleviate some of the trauma. Unfortunately, some states are intentionally targeting SEL for cuts. 2. Personal Interventions - a single person or intervention can change the course of a life spinning out of control. 3. Take away the “Opportunity” - making guns, targets and opportunities less “available” can stop an attack.
Sadly, this seems to have become a political issue. People on the political right tend to defend gun rights and say things like President Tromp after mass shootings in 2019 - “Mental Illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun.” While on the other side, the focus is largely on gun control. This is a complex issue that needs a complex answer.
Even though this book was dark, there were parts that were also inspiring. It only takes one person intervening positively to stop a mass shooting. It’s a good reminder to check in with people and make sure that YOU can have a positive impact. This stood out to me, “The problems in the lives of mass shooters feel so massive and overwhelming, but sometimes it’s the smallest act that can get someone through a moment, let enough air out of the balloon so they can breathe again.”
I recommend that everyone read this book. There is so much valuable information that I had to leave out of the book review. It is vitally important that we all begin to take in this information so that we can be the change.
“Mass shootings are not an inevitable fact of American life; they’re preventable. Mass shooters are people who can be stopped before they do monstrous things (p. 18).”
I'm so glad I read this book and I think EVERYONE should read this book.
Of course there is not a quick fix for mass shootings, but if we all did our part, we could significantly decrease Mass Shootings. Sometimes, it's as simple as having a Greater to welcome everyone into the space. Some things need to be more significant like a database that knows who has purchased ALL the guns and keeps track of the mental/health checks. Schools and businesses need to have enough social workers and psychologists to help everyone. We need to reduce stigma and increase knowledge of mental health. And maybe health insurance should NOT be tied to your job?!?! Also, everyone should be trained in crisis intervention, “Like CPR, crisis intervention is a skill anyone can learn—you don’t have to be a doctor or psychologist. And, like CPR, crisis intervention can save people’s lives. If a person in crisis is a balloon ready to pop, think of crisis intervention as the art of letting a little bit of the air out (p. 65).”
Mass shootings are "complex." "There are no quick fixes to systematic social problems..." Some solutions are imperfect and that is better than nothing. "The reality is that imperfections do not render solutions completely useless. There is no one solution to rule them all. As with Swiss cheese, there are holes—but if you layer the slices, one on top of the other, the holes start to get covered up. And layering imperfect solutions, holistically, is the only way to prevent mass violence (p. 186)"
I think this book is very accessible and also hopeful. You and I can make the world a safer and better place. It's been a hard couple of years, let's start taking care of each other a little more.
The book everyone should be reading right now. Tragic, honest, and based in research. We need to hold our lawmakers, government and each other accountable. We need to invest in mental health and social resources. We need to invest in our youth.
Do your part, take action, and listen to the research!
Let me first start off saying that I am horrified that we need a book on how to end gun violence/mass shootings. On the other hand FINALLY there is a book on mass shootings and what can be done about them. This book is so emotional, clinical, and very thorough. My hometown is Bemidji, MN.......my best friend lives on the Red Lake Reservation. Her mom was a teacher at the time of the Red Lake shooting. The chaos, the fear, the anxiety of waiting for word to see if my friends survived was enormous. I felt this book like a punch in the gut. The greatest thing that this book does is say THERE IS HOPE to end mass shootings. WE ALL NEED TO WORK to end them. I love that the book says we can always do more. We can start engaging with each other again. We gain really focus on mental illness and VOTE to enhance and get more mental health services, we can do more for gun laws.
This book is a MUST Read for everyone in society.
The one part of the book that will stay with me, is when the authors talked about hard targets and designing schools with more curves to prevent straight line of sight. The authors counter.....the school mass shooter will go to that school, will know the drills, they are part of the school.
I had never thought of it like that.
Thank you to the publisher and to netgalley for allowing me this ARC for this honest review.
The book explores a wide gamut of topics in helping its readers see what make someone decide to be a shooter, but tbh 1/3 of the research could have been cut without taking from the book's essence. Too many times, there were moments where I had to stop and ask myself -- why is this paragraph here? Why was this anecdote included? I found myself able to breeze through pages in some chapters because the point had already been made early on.
Despite my structural complaints of this book, the information it offers is worth knowing. It just depends on what type of prior knowledge you have (trauma, history of shootings in America, etc.) when going in to read it.
Words cannot even express how great this book is. Not only does it give a fantastic overview into some of the (many) contributing factors of mass shootings in America, but the authors do so with grace, empathy, and compassion. And, on top of going in depth on statitics and contirbuting factors, they also overview solutions on individual, institutional, and societal levels. Overall, they took a really depressing and complex topic and somehow interwove everything involved and instilled a sense of hope and agency.
Great. Excellent, thorough research. This is important work. Reminds me of the trauma I felt as a teacher while we did lockdown drills all the time. Answering questions (and changing the subject when appropriate) from students who are wondering what to do if a killer enters the school. So messed up. Their charts on pp. 186-187 are succinct - showing how to stop mass shootings. A huge part of these are societal ills like no guaranteed paid leave, $7.25 minimum wage, people falling into medical and student debt forever, the individualism and isolation of suburban sprawl where most people are just by themselves all the time... It's just really sad. My heart goes out to the victims of mass shooters. And my heart goes out to the shooters themselves, who - almost exclusively - suffered from adverse childhood experiences and mental health issues for a long time. Thanks to the authors for their great work. I hope it will reduce the frequency and severity of these nightmarish events.
It’s all the rage! Almost every news feed and social media venue broadcasts it, some with greater alarm than others. And the glut of press it receives makes it feel like it’s happening everywhere, every day, in every neighborhood. It’s like a voracious beast that is growing and consuming all in its path. And then there are the pundits and professionals that describe it as a simple, single-item issue that calls for a simple, single-item remedy and they have the cure-all-fix-all remedy. But the trouble is far more problematical, which means a healthy response will likely be at several levels simultaneously. Into this hazy fog of violence has stepped a new book, “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic” by Jillian Peterson, PhD, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Hamline University and James Densley, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University, both in St. Paul, Minnesota. This 240-page hardback is well research, readable, reasonable, and worth the time. I first ran across the book after the Uvalde TX school shooting. It was from an article at “The Conversation” (https://theconversation.com) where I found them, and was hooked as I waded through the sensible-minded way they looked at these violent events. Peterson and Densley have compiled as much data and facts as are available on mass shootings in the U.S., going back to 1966. They used the modern standard of a mass shooting as an event that involved firearms and killed four or more people in a public place. At the time they wrote the book (September 2021) they found there had been 172 of them in the United States. They then amassed the details in a database, but also interviewed several survivors, living shooters, families of shooters, etc. Their findings are not only online at https://theviolenceproject.org but printed out in this volume. They did this, not out of an infatuation with violence, but “to understand how we can intervene earlier to prevent mass shootings before they occur…to learn from the patterns…that can help us prevent more people from dying” (14). And they squarely hit their target. The authors have found that there is no single problem, but four categorical areas that accelerate mass shootings. They can’t confirm that these four areas are causative, but they are clear that they show up too many times to ignore. Put simply these four traits are: (1) many shooters have experienced childhood abuse and exposure to violence at an early age, frequently by parents. (2) Nearly all of these people have reached a critical, identifiable crisis point, and plenty of them are suicidal. (3) Most of the shooters look for models they can identify with in their violence and are aided in their search by the unending media coverage of cable news, the internet, and social media. Loads of these people are motivated by publicity and fame-seeking. But they’re also aided through these venues to find someone to blame for their miserable circumstances. (4) When opportunity arises to carry out a mass shooting, they take it. Easy access to firearms and crowds of people in public places (16-17). And, because there is no single problem, but four categorical areas that accelerate mass shooting, Peterson and Densley hunt down multilayered remedies. This is what I appreciated most out of this meaningful volume. Almost every chapter pours out just as much ink on workable solutions as it does on what feeds the violence. And their proposed answers are not anecdotal or opinion-based, but all have just as much research behind them as does their analysis on the details that fuel the violence. For example, while chronicling the role of various media in giving potential shooters models and avenues for publicity, the authors describe ways media and you and I can starve the mass shooters of publicity. They spend a considerable time explaining how “No Notoriety” (https://nonotoriety.com/)and “Don’t Name Them” (https://www.dontnamethem.org/) are valuable approaches to take in siphoning off the oxygen out of the fame-seeking lungs, so to speak. The authors have truly made this a level-headed work! I was initially concerned that the Peterson and Densley were going to promote strident gun-control measures and antidotes. So, I was pleasantly surprised, when working through the chapter on weapons of opportunity, that their proposals were not the normal, drastic ones mentioned in the “Gun-Control-Gun-Lobby” debates. The authors discussed “permit-to-purchase,” RFIDs, “waiting periods,” and a few other approaches. The way they addressed each was backed up by studies, but also empty of rabid reactions. A reader may feel they don’t go far enough, or that they’re uncomfortable with the authors’ recommendations, but the volume is not a “Gun-Control” manual. “The Violence Project” was just the book I was looking for! And to know that the authors have made many of their studies and conclusions available on their project website adds untold value to the book. This is the book people need to read instead of listening to single-answer experts. I recommend this work to Law Enforcement agencies, legislators, teachers, pastors, and whoever cares about the violence. This book is a must-read! I’m thankful to the publisher. I requested a review copy and they sent it promptly. They made no demands on me nor gave me bribes. Therefore, my analysis of the manuscript is all my own, and I’m sharing it freely.
I applaud those at The Violence Project for writing this absolutely (and very sadly) necessary book. Read it, share with your loved ones, friends and neighbors, request it for your libraries - the authors present so many reasons to have hope in the face of such horror and loss. Please also find more information by searching for The Violence Project on social media, or going to TheViolenceProject.org.
A fascinating read if you are either (1) a hopeful public health professional who wants to examine this national crisis from the system or (2) a regular person who is tired of “thoughts and prayers” rather than concrete actions against gun violence. It definitely had me agreeing and reflecting on how America’s individualism, the patriarchy and its normalization of violence, and more integrated factors feed into America’s gun culture. When I take my violence prevention and control class, I hope I can refer back to this book then!!
Comprehensive, well-researched, passionate, and informational; this book provides a roadmap to ending mass shootings, suicides, gun-related homicides, and increasing stability and well-being of every community member. Peterson and Densley do an an extraordinary job of addressing *all* areas requiring attention, including societal, cultural, and legal means of prevention and safety. The main thesis here is to fund many areas of well-being and prevention avenues, rather than arming teachers, banning guns, or increasing sentencing. None of these are the answer, and it will take all of us to truly prevent mass shootings. It is doable.
Best book I’ve read all year. A must read for anyone. We CAN solve the mass shooting epidemic, but we have to work together to do it. This book gives some amazing ideas. I’m so grateful for the authors of this book and the important work they are doing through their non-profit.
Findings include: - active shooting drills haven’t made students safer and have made them more anxious - the No Notoriety movement of not talking about the shooter or using his name is valuable - most mass shootings are a form of violent suicide - relationships and knowing how to de-escalate kids (people) in crisis is critical - reducing opportunity is important — gun control legislation can help
This is truly a must read for everyone, regardless of your political affiliation or views on gun. We hear a lot of talk among politicians about what will or won’t work to stop gun violence. Here’s the research politicians need to craft legislation that could actually work, while still respecting the rights of gun owners.
The authors apply a data-driven approach to understand the commonalities between mass shooters. A "standard" profile emerges, which theoretically allows us to understand the warning signs when someone is in crisis and thereby prevent more tragedy.
The authors conclude by providing actionable suggestions for how each member of society can contribute to stopping the next mass shooting. I found it well-researched and eyeopening. Would recommend.