Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Jump To Conclusions About Mass Shooters’ Motivations
By Nick Baumann
Just over half a decade ago, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and a group of constituents she was meeting near a Tucson Safeway in Arizona. He killed six people and injured 13 more.
Shooting a politician is often a political act. And people on both sides of America’s ever-widening political divide were quick to allege that Loughner’s politics were opposite of their own.
On Wednesday morning, a man police have identified as James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on Republican lawmakers practicing for the annual congressional charity baseball game. And people are making the same sort of unsourced claims others made about Loughner. “I do know that America is divided,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Wednesday morning. “Violence is appearing in the streets. And it’s coming from the left.”
Here’s another example (there are plenty more on Twitter):
The Left has normalized violence against Republicans. Terrible day. https://t.co/QnyLkkABPI
— Gayle Trotter (@gayletrotter) June 14, 2017
The alleged gunman may very well turn out to have had a political motivation. Two Republican congressman have said that a man they say matched his description asked them before the shooting whether Republicans or Democrats were practicing on the field. But we don’t know for sure enough yet.
In these moments, like many others in journalism, it really helps to pump the brakes. Often, the shooter’s motivations are far from clear. Take Loughner. At Mother Jones, the liberal political magazine where I worked in 2011, we were more careful. Instead of jumping to conclusions, we reported out the story […]