Ten people were killed and nine others were injured in a shooting at the Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon on Thursday.
The shooter, who is included among the total dead, allegedly killed himself after police arrived at the scene, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said at a press conference. Police did not publicly announce the shooter's identity, but anonymous law enforcement officials identified him to multiple news organizations as 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer.
According to the New York Times, the shooting is one of more than 40 school shootings to occur so far in 2015 — but the first to result in "a major mass casualty incident at a school this year."
The shooting is a devastating tragedy, but unfortunately one Americans are increasingly familiar with. And as more and more of these events end up in the news on what feels like a weekly basis, the country is being forced to consider why the US, more than any other developed nation, suffers from such extraordinary levels of gun violence.
What we know about the Umpqua Community College shooting in Douglas County, Oregon
Authorities check bags as students and staff are moved off campus at Umpqua Community College after shooting report. pic.twitter.com/BvvHh0UYqN— Michael Sullivan (@MikeSullPhoto) October 1, 2015
The shooting reportedly took place at Snyder Hall in Umpqua Community College, which has about 3,000 students, in Roseburg, Oregon. According to emergency dispatcher reports, there were about 35 people in the hall at the time of the shooting. A school official told KATU there were "multiple patients in multiple classrooms."
The shooting began around 10:30 am Pacific time, Douglas County Sheriff Hanlin said at a press conference. Hanlin said police officers responded to the shooting at approximately 10:38 am, exchanged fire with the suspect, and he killed himself. They then swept the campus to make sure the threat was neutralized.
The Roseburg News-Review reported one witness's horrifying account: "Kortney Moore, 18, from Rogue River, was in her Writing 115 class in Snyder Hall when one shot came through a window. She saw her teacher get shot in the head. The shooter was inside at that point, and he told people to get on the ground. The shooter was asking people to stand up and state their religion and then started firing away, Moore said. Moore was lying there with people who had been shot."
What we know about Chris Harper-Mercer, the alleged shooter
Harper-Mercer's neighbors told CBS News that he was a bit of a loner and kept to himself. According to public records reported by the Oregonian, he moved from Los Angeles to Winchester, Oregon, in 2013.
A published notice in the California-based Daily Breeze listed the shooter as one of the five students in the 2009 graduating class of a school for people with emotional issues and learning disabilities, the Wall Street Journal reported. But online postings, reportedly linked to his mother, suggested he had Asperger syndrome, which generally doesn't increase the chances of violent crime.
As CBS News and the Guardian reported, a blog apparently linked to Harper-Mercer showed an interest in mass shootings, including the shooting in Virginia this August that left two journalists dead. One blog post said of the Virginia shooting, "I have noticed that so many people like [the shooter] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight." That suggests a desire for fame, which experts suggest is quite common among mass shooters.
The alleged shooter — or someone identifying as him — also reportedly stated in some online profiles that he doesn't like organized religion. That may be relevant to the shooting: At least one witness said, according to the New York Times, that the shooter had asked people their religions before shooting them.
In the message board 4chan, somebody also posted a warning about a potential shooting at a school in the "northwest":
Because users on 4chan are anonymous, it's impossible to know if this was referencing the Umpqua Community College shooting or whether the author was Harper-Mercer. But it has led to a lot of speculation online, and federal authorities told the New York Times they are investigating the post.
Are mass shootings on the rise? It depends on which definition you use.
There's some debate about how to define mass shootings. But under one definition — shootings at a public place in which the shooter murdered four or more people, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence — they appear to be getting more common, as the chart above from Mother Jones, based on an analysis from Harvard School of Public Health, shows.
But not everyone agrees with this definition. Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, for example, defines mass shootings as any shooting in which at least four people were murdered. Under those terms, mass shootings don't appear to be increasing. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health call that definition too broad, since it catches domestic, gang, and drug-related shootings that may not be considered mass shootings in layman's terms.
The Oregon shooting appears to count under any of the definitions for mass shootings, since so many people died.
But this debate is extremely arbitrary. A shooting is a shooting. The debate over which definition to use misses the broader problem with gun violence in America: Compared with other developed countries, the US has extraordinary levels of gun violence.
America has extraordinary levels of gun violence
In fact, no other developed country comes close to the levels of gun violence that America has, as this chart from Tewksbury Lab shows.
The correlation this chart demonstrates — more guns mean more gun deaths — has been backed by a lot of research. Whether at the state or country level, reviews of the evidence by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center have consistently found that places with more guns have more deaths after controlling for variables like socioeconomic factors and other crime. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
This is widely believed by experts to be the consequence of America's relaxed policy approach to and culture of guns: Making more guns more accessible means more guns, and more guns mean more gun deaths. Researchers have found this is true not just with gun homicides, but also with suicides, domestic violence, and even violence against police.
Maybe some Americans can look at these statistics and studies and still decide that the right to bear arms should be protected and gun control is a bad policy. But given the research, America's policies and attitudes toward guns have clear, deadly costs.
People react to the shooting
- President Barack Obama: "As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. … It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America next week or a couple of months from now."
- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: "Today is heartbreaking for Umpqua Community College, the greater Roseburg community, and all of Oregon. My heart is heavy as we continue to learn more about today's tragic events. While it is still too early to know all of the facts, the effects of an incident such as this one are long-lasting. Please join me in keeping the victims and their families, as well as first responders, in your thoughts."
- US Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR): "Today's shooting in Roseburg is a heartbreaking tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Roseburg's first responders for their work in responding to the event. Once we know more about what happened today, I plan to work with my colleagues in Congress to find ways to prevent tragedies such as these."
- Violence Policy Center executive director Josh Sugarmann: "Another horrifying act of gun violence in America. While we don’t know the facts yet, we know all too well the devastating result: a shooter who was able inflict horrific lethal violence because of our nation’s unique inability to address our ongoing gun crisis. Lives are lost, families are devastated, and communities are scarred, yet for America’s firearms industry and gun lobby it’s business as usual. Until those who support a sane national gun policy make their voices heard, such horrific events will continue to define our country."