Most mass shooters in the US are men, but the Nashville school shooting shows that statistics don't always tell the whole story

  • Police said the suspect in The Covenant School Shooting was a 28-year-old female.

  • While most mass shooters are men, a psychologist said not to let statistics "blind you to real threats."

  • This "tells us not to get too cocky about what we know and be respectful of what we don't know," he said.

The vast majority of mass shootings in the US are carried out by men, but the elementary school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday shows that statistics do not always tell the whole story — and instead, the focus should be on solutions.

Police have identified the suspect in The Covenant School shooting as a 28-year-old female. Nashville police initially said the shooter was transgender but on Monday said the term "may have been used prematurely," as there was no change to the shooter's license plate or legal name. A police spokesperson added that authorites could not confirm the shooter's gender identity.

Social media accounts that appear to link to the shooter used he/him pronouns and a male name was written on one of the guns recovered at the scene.

Guidance from the Trans Journalists Association encourages reporters not to make assumptions about a person's gender identity or presentation.

Still, it is highly unusual for a school shooter to not be a cisgender man. According to a database maintained by The Violence Project, 98% of mass public shootings carried out in the US since 1966 were committed by men.

The Violence Project defines a mass shooting as a "multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms," at least partially in a public location, and that is unrelated to another underlying criminal activity, in accordance with the Congressional Research Service.

The Violence Project, which has not yet been updated with Monday's shooting, said that 100% of K-12 mass school shootings included in their database had been carried out by men.

"Statistics are really useful, but you have to be careful with the application of a statistic to an individual," Joel Dvoskin, a clinical and forensic psychologist who is also a professor at the University of Arizona, told Insider.

Dvoskin explained it's important to remember that just because a man is far more likely to commit a school shooting, or any violent crime, that doesn't preclude women from doing so. He also noted that the number of violent crimes committed by women has actually increased in recent decades.

"Any stereotypes, you just have to be really cautious about, because they blind you to real threats," he said.

For instance, if a woman shows troubling warning signs, a loved one may be less likely to seriously consider that they could pose a threat to others.

Robert Jordan, the cofounder of Protecting Our Students, said in an email to Insider that he hoped female mass shooters were not "becoming a pattern or trend," noting that only four out of the last few decades had been women.

"It is essential to emphasize the need for solutions to prevent these types of tragedies from happening. This includes a multi-faceted approach addressing issues such as mental health, gun control, and the broader cultural and societal factors contributing to violence," Jordan said, noting his organization's efforts to eliminate active shooters in schools.

As for why men are more likely to commit a mass shooting, Dvoskin said the answer is complicated and almost certainly a combination of factors, including genetics, testosterone, culture, and a society in which guns have been depicted in media as a way to feel strong and powerful.

But there's not any one reason, he said, adding: "Violence is essentially the result of an accumulation of stressors and a lack of resilience or strategies to handle severe stress."

Mark Bryant, Executive Director of Gun Violence Archive, told Insider's Rebecca Cohen that men may also be more likely to view a gun as a tool, adding that boys are more likely to have had experience with guns from a young age than girls are.

Whatever the reason, Dvoskin said the Nashville shooting once again tells us to "be respectful of what we don't know."


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