• Researchers found that shootings by fame-seekers were three times more surprising
  • They said fame-seeking shooters carefully plan attacks to differ from past shooters
  • Researchers highlighted the role of media and red flag laws to prevent such attacks

Fame-seeking shooters carefully plan their attacks to be surprises, researchers have found. This is to set themselves apart from previous shooters.

Mass shootings have become all too common an occurrence, and the perpetrators of such events may have their own reasons for their actions. One of these reasons, unfortunately, is to seek fame.

"Mass shootings perpetrated by shooters seeking fame are the most lethal and, likely, the least understood," the researchers behind the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), wrote. "Fame is sought in many ways, such as attempting to be deadlier or leaving behind manifestos for the public to read."

But, what about the element of surprise? How does this come into play in fame-seeking shooters' plans?

To shed light on the matter, the researchers looked at whether mass shootings by fame-seeking perpetrators are more "surprising." They also sought to understand "the link between fame and surprise in mass shootings."

To do this, they looked at the information on 189 mass shootings that took place from 1966 to 2021, measuring the "surprisal" and fame of the incidents. Surprisal, New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering explained, measures how different an attack is from previous shootings by its "location and targets chosen."

They compared the events perpetuated by fame-seeking shooters and those that weren't — for instance by shooters who were instead motivated by revenge or some other personal reason.

They measured the mass shooting's "fame," not by media coverage but by Wikipedia traffic. The shooters' own statements and about seeking fame cemented their status as fame-seeking.

Indeed, the researchers found that the surprisal was "significantly higher" in shootings by fame seekers. Shootings by fame seekers were about three times more surprising than those done by non-fame seekers, the university noted. In fact, eight out of the 10 most famous shootings were done by fame seekers.

This is contrary to the previous belief that the number of people who are killed in the event is the main factor for the fame of a mass shooter, one of the study authors, Maurizio Porfiri of NYU Tandon School of Engineering, said in the university release.

"Our study found that 'surprise' creates fame even when controlling for lethality," Porfiri said. "Fame-seeking mass shooters are not necessarily attempting deadlier shootings by maximizing surprise... It is likely that pursuing surprising attacks is perceived as an independent path to fame for these types of shooters."

In other words, fame-seeking shooters' use of the element of surprise isn't necessarily so they can inflict the most damage. Instead, they planned the shootings specifically to set themselves apart in their unfortunate attempts to seek fame. In fact, the researchers found "no relationship between surprise and lethality."

"Our results demonstrate that these individuals carefully plan their attacks to be different from past shooters and that the tendency to deviate from history is, in fact, rewarded by fame," the authors wrote.

"Not only do we uncover a link between fame-seeking behavior and surprise in the attacks but also we demonstrate an association between the fame of a mass shooting and its surprise," they added.

Crucial Ways to Stop Fame-Seeking Shooters in Their Tracks

The results of the study shed light on the logic of fame-seeking mass shooters. It also shows how these fame seekers could be trickier to deal with. It appears they don't follow the "usual" patterns of other mass shooters and go out of their way to be different — all in their quest to achieve notoriety.

However, it also highlights some important pathways and changes that may help prevent these attacks.

One of them is the media, specifically how the media reports on these attacks.

As the researchers noted, the novelty of mass shootings committed by fame seekers unfortunately provides the fame that the perpetrators were seeking in the first place, despite costing precious lives. And with the media often providing a lot of details about shootings, fame seekers end up having a picture of the pattern that they could eventually strive to deviate from, Porfiri explained.

By limiting the details provided in the coverage of mass shootings, then perhaps fame-seeking shooters may also be cut off from a vital source of information about what they might consider a "usual" shooting. However, more studies may be needed to figure out the "optimal" strategies for reporting, Porfiri noted.

This also adds an important layer of conversation on the role of the media after mass shootings.

Previously, for instance, there have been conversations about how the coverage should focus on the victims instead of the perpetrator, and whether media coverage of mass shootings potentially inspires copycats in the future. A previous study also found that fame-seeking shooters tend to receive more media coverage than others, thus reinforcing their motives.

Second, this also stresses the importance of red flag laws and how they can prevent such events, Porfiri said. This is important when it comes to fame-seeking mass shooters because of the way they tend to behave even before carrying out their plans.

"Fame seekers frequently make their intentions known prior to acting, making red flag laws crucial to prevent that sort of crime," Porfiri said in the university release.

Of course, these two factors aren't the only ones that could help prevent such mass shootings. The results of the study, however, shed light on an important factor that could potentially lead to a means of preventing these devastating events.

Simply adding security to places where these shootings usually happen, for instance, isn't the key to preventing them, Porfiri explained. As their study showed, these fame seekers really go out of their way to avoid these "normal" places for their surprise attacks. So, the key now is to find the important barriers society can place to stop these planned surprise attacks — for the sake of fame — from coming to fruition.

So far, there remains to be no consensus on what makes a mass shooting since different organizations have different definitions of it. For instance, the non-profit group The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as a shooting event in which at least four people were killed or injured.

Under this definition, the organization had logged 206 mass shootings to date in 2023 — and that's even if it's only the fifth month of the year.

A gun
Representation. A gun. IIIBlackhartIII/Pixabay