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Mass Shootings: A Research Guide: Hate Crimes

Introduction

Alongside mass shootings related to terrorism, some mass shootings may also qualify as hate crimes. The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."

Background Reading

Examples

Examples of possible hate crime-mass shootings:

  • The Isla Vista, CA, shooter was motivated by hatred of women; one of his targets was a sorority house.   
  • The Orlando shooter targeted a gay nightclub. Initial reports suggested that he might have been motivated by ISIS's video executions of suspected gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. Later testimony in the trial of the shooter's wife suggested that he was simply looking for any nightclub to target, and may not even have been aware that Pulse was a gay club.
  • The Wisconsin Sikh temple shooter was a white supremacist. Although that shooter's specific motives for targeting the temple are unknown, Sikh men have been targets of hate crimes in which they were mistaken for Muslims.
  • The Charleston church shooter targeted members of a Black church with a history of Civil Rights activism; he was a white supremacist with a stated goal of starting a race war.
  • Two shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand (March 15, 2019), targeted Muslim victims.
  • The shooter at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas (August 3, 2019), targeted Hispanic victims. He is believed to have posted a white nationalist and anti-immigrant manifesto.

Whether familicides count as mass shootings is a subject of debate (see under the "Data" tab in this guide). Given that familicides are overwhelmingly carried out against women by estranged intimate partners who are men, gender is a factor in such incidents, although they are generally not considered hate crimes. The FBI's analysis, which uses a relatively narrow definition of mass shootings, noted that 10% of active shooter incidents were directed at current or former wives or girlfriends (p. 10 of "A Study of Active Shooter Events").