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FBI calls ‘probability’ that a mass shooting will occur in Spokane ‘absurd’

A defense-industry employee used his pass to get into the Washington Navy Yard and went on a deadly shooting rampage Monday, spraying bullets in the hallways and firing from a balcony on workers in an atrium below. Thirteen people were killed, including the gunman. (AP Photo)

A shocking headline, seemingly backed by data, is bouncing through social media predicting when the next mass shooting will be and where it will occur – Spokane.

The FBI in Spokane calls a report that details where, when, and the type of person who will commit the next mass shooting “without merit.”

“There Will Be Another Mass Shooting. This Is What the Data Tell Us About It,” the Atlantic magazine headline reads. The first paragraph of reporter Philip Bump’s story gets specific.

The next mass shooting will take place on (date deleted) in Spokane, Washington. It will be committed by an emotionally disturbed, 38 year-old white man who will kill seven people and wound six more at a place he used to work using a semi-automatic handgun he purchased legally in the state.

Bump looked at the historic data on mass killings, compiled and shared by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine.

Although he says, “Our sincere hope is that every prediction we made is wrong because no mass killings should happen again,” Bump includes charts and probability arguments to explain what we have learned about mass shootings.

He believes the gunman will more than likely be a white male because in the past 30 years of mass shootings, nearly two-thirds of the 67 incidents were at the hands of a white person and only one was a female. The average age was about 35.

Workplace shootings are also twice as common as mass violence anywhere else, including schools.

It’s probable that the person who will commit the next mass crime will be mentally ill, he says, because 63 percent of those involved in mass shootings had some history of mental health issues.

The statistics he provides point to the shooter getting a weapon to commit the mass killing legally. About 81 percent of the guns used these types of crimes were obtained legally, he says.

The detail that has a lot of people concerned, including the local FBI, is the Atlantic reporter’s specific date and city location for the next mass shooting.

The date was one of the “more complex calculations” according to the report.

In order to calculate it, we first wanted to figure out how frequently shooting incidents happened. So we figured out how many days passed, on average, between them. Over the past 30 years, that figure is about 222 days – seven months or so. The pace of shootings has increased dramatically recently. Since the first shooting in 2004, incidents have occurred about once every 149 days.

He continues with an explanation of how he arrived at the date provided in his article.

Why Spokane?

Washington state has had far more shootings than its population would predict – five incidents where 1.27 might have been expected, according to his analysis.

Washington also ranks ninth in the number of people in the age and gender category of the average mass shooter. The location also factors in mental health reports and gun ownership rates.

“We were therefore willing to pick Washington as the most likely state,” he writes.

An FBI agent in Spokane says the probability study is “without merit.”

Frank Harrill, the FBI supervisory senior resident agent in Spokane, tells the Spokesman Review Newspaper the overly specific details in Bump’s analysis “takes it into the theater of the absurd.”

Bump tells me the point of his article is “to give a better sense of the patterns of such crimes.”

He acknowledges in his article and to me that data can’t predict the specific date and location of a crime like this based on a small set of data.

“There’s no more reason for people in Spokane to be worried than there is for anyone who happens to know a 38 year-old to be on edge,” he says.

He still sees the value in discussing what we do know factually about mass shootings.

“There’s value in that, given the enormous misconceptions about how they occur. As a function of population, Washington has seen more than its share of mass killings,” Bump says. “That’s worth exploring, which is what I was hoping to do.”


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