The gun rampage at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas, on Saturday that left at least eight people dead, seven injured, and countless others traumatized is the latest in a worsening American phenomenon. The horrific event continues several trends, including some I reported on after the recent mass shootings at a school in Nashville and a bank in Louisville. They center around the military-style weapons used in the attacks.
AR-15s, tactical gear, and extremism
Over the past year, at least eight gun massacres in the United States have been carried out in public locations by perpetrators wielding AR-15s, a popular civilian version of a semiautomatic rifle designed for maximum killing in war. A majority of these shooters have also used body armor or other tactical gear, a pattern that emerged a decade ago and escalated in 2022. Their chosen guns and gear reflect a specific form of emulation behavior seen among many perpetrators (also known as “copycat” behavior) that I’ve documented in my reporting and in my recent book on preventing mass shootings, Trigger Points. The rise of this trend also coincided with brazen marketing tactics used by the gun industry.
Among the 86 mass shootings since 2012 documented in our Mother Jones database, 37 of the cases involved military-style assault rifles.
Early reporting on the 33-year-old gunman at the shopping mall, Mauricio Garcia, who was shot dead by a responding police officer, indicates he was fixated on Nazism and other far-right extremist views. Violent far-right ideology as a motivating factor in mass shootings has also been a rising trend in recent years.
From the attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde nearly a year ago to the one at the mall north of Dallas on Saturday, the highest number of fatalities from these eight massacres has been in Texas, where the total victims have included at least 29 killed, among them the 19 children and two teachers murdered in Uvalde. Dozens of other people were wounded in these attacks; the one in Allen included at least three child victims, though details about the victims were slow to emerge.
Texas authorities have been under a cloud of suspicion ever since Uvalde, and not only for the catastrophic failure of law enforcement to respond to that school massacre. State and local officials have stonewalled and been conspicuously slow about sharing information with the public in response to mass shootings, and Republican lawmakers apparently tried to cover up police officers’ fears about the gunman’s AR-15 inside Robb Elementary. The aftermath of a gun massacre at a residence in Cleveland, Texas, at the end of April included outrage at Gov. Greg Abbott, whose initial response included denigrating the victims as “illegal immigrants.”
The profound trauma from mass shootings goes far beyond the deaths and physical injuries, as reporting on Saturday’s rampage from the Texas Tribune highlighted:
Elder Flores, a 34-year-old construction worker from Mesquite, brought his six young children and his brother to the outlet mall to shop for Mother’s Day. When the gunfire started, his oldest daughter—Danna Flores, 10—grabbed her siblings and ran. “We were running for our lives,” she said. “It was really scary.”
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggested yet again that there is no gun-policy solution to mass shooters using AR-15s and instead claimed that mental illness is the “root cause” of these massacres. Extensive case evidence shows that claim is false, yet Abbott has repeated it often on his watch. At least seven public gun massacres have occurred in the state since 2015 with Abbott in the governor’s mansion, including in Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, Odessa, Uvalde, and Allen. Six of those seven mass shootings involved assault rifles. So too did the one in which the gunman slaughtered his neighbors inside their home in Cleveland on April 28 (an attack not in the Mother Jones database, which includes only those committed in public locations). The dead include numerous police officers, mothers, and children.
Wrongly blaming mental illness as the fundamental cause of mass shootings is a tactic long used by the political right to distract from the guns involved. No mass shooter is a mentally healthy person—and mental-health interventions can be an important tool for helping prevent these tragedies, as I explore at length in my book. That’s especially true with suicidality, which marks a majority of cases. Clinically diagnosable mental illness, however, rarely is a primary driving factor in mass shootings. Far more common are other troubling behavioral issues and circumstances, including gun factors that Abbott clearly doesn’t want to discuss, given his political base.
Yet Abbott’s approach could not be more at odds with broad public opinion, as illustrated by Fox News’ own fresh polling on gun laws. As Fox just found, an overwhelming majority of Americans—80 percent or more—favor policies that include background checks for all gun buyers, raising the legal age for all buyers to 21, and using red flag laws to keep guns away from those who appear to pose danger to themselves or others.
Stark as they are, those polling results came just after mid-April, even before the latest Texas episodes of American carnage.