Why Female Mass Shooters Are So Rare

By: Stephanie Pappas
Published: 12/11/2015 on LiveScience

As last week’s shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, unfolded, the narrative seemed sickeningly familiar: A few moments of chaos ending in multiple deaths.

But by the end of the day on Dec. 2, the police revealed something surprising. One of the two shooters who attacked a health department training and holiday party that day was female.

That’s shocking, according to experts in human behavior, because women are violent at much lower rates than men. And mass killings, even more so than other types of violence, are overwhelmingly a male phenomenon.

Female mass killers are “so rare that it just hasn’t been studied,” said James Garbarino, a psychologist at Loyola University Chicago who has researched human development and violence. “There aren’t enough cases.” [The History of Human Aggression]

Gender and violence

In general, women are far less homicidal than men. Women commit only about 10 percent to 13 percent of homicides n the United States, said Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor and author of “The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers” (St. Martin’s Press, 2013).

When women do kill, they’re less likely than men to choose firearms to do it, Lankford told Live Science. Only 8 percent of perpetrators of firearm homicides are female, he said. In comparison, 40 percent of poisonings and 20 percent of deaths by fire are linked to female perps. [10 Surprising Facts About the Male Mind]

The female half of the San Bernardino attackers stands out for her sadism, as well, said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a retired FBI profiler and author of “Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us” (Plume; Reprint edition, 2012). Female suicide bombers aren’t unheard of, O’Toole told Live Science, but blowing oneself up is a very —> Read More