There are many books that discuss mass shootings and their causes, and I have read a few. What I have not seen in most of these books are solutions to prevent mass shootings. Jillian Peterson’s and James Densley’s The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic (Abrams Press, 2021) is that book—it is the book that lawmakers and school administrations and business owners need to read to understand and prevent mass shootings. Peterson and Densley provide evidence-based solutions from their years-long project of studying mass shooters, their victims, and the people that knew them before the shooting. Their book explains carefully how they came to every conclusion, and they are also quick to point out when further research needs to be done. In short, The Violence Project is a perfectly balanced book, filled with research and solutions, but also with questions and important observations.
Peterson and Densley begin by imploring us to think beyond the “monster” label that we place on mass shooters, because the truth of why they do what they do is so much more complicated:
“They are us—boys and men we know. Our children. Our students. Our colleagues. Our community. They’re walking in and out of the same secure doors we are, past the same armed guards everyday, like the rest of us. They’re standing next to us when we rehearse for the next shooting. They’re reading and watching the same media stories we are. They are not outsiders. They are insiders”
Peterson and Densley force us to divorce ourselves from the easy label of “monster” because that label doesn’t invite much thought; mass shootings are a problem that will require thinking and resources to solve. We cannot allow ourselves an easy remove from the perpetrators of this violence, for they are a part of our communities. And if they are a part of our communities, that means the problems the preparators have begun in our communities. The first step is to rethink our reactions to these crimes. This is one of the many things that The Violence Project does extremely well—it asks you to first reconsider all the preconceived notions you may have about mass shootings and the people who commit them.
Peterson and Densley are both professors of criminal justice and co-founders of a non-profit research center, and their backgrounds drive the research provided in this book. They interview mass shooters and their families, but they also talked to victims of mass shootings and their families, first responders, and people who planned mass shootings but changed their minds. They studied every mass shooting in the United States from 1966 to present day. The result is a book that is filled with crucial information. Peterson and Densley state that the goal of their project “was to gather as much information as possible about each and every mass shooter, so we could look for patterns in the data and see if profiles emerged that might point us to new ideas for prevention.” The solutions that Peterson and Densley are able to come up with based upon the data they collected are astounding. Even more astounding to me were the things they were able to prove are not working—things like lockdown drills and security guards.
Peterson and Densley also made the crucial decision not to name any of the preparators in support of the “No Notoriety” movement. The No Notoriety movement was created by a family who lost their son in a Boulder, Colorado theatre shooting. They were frustrated by the amount of news coverage the perpetrator was getting and “challenged the media to deprive the perpetrator of the attention he sought.” As a result, Peterson and Densley do not directly name the shooters they study as their goal, they say, “is not to focus on any one story or perpetrator, but on what we can learn from the patterns in the stories over time that can help us prevent more people from dying.” This approach serves the book well—victims’ voices are amplified instead. The Violence Project is a crucial study. This book is a must-read for teachers, school administrators, managers/business owners, and anyone who works with young people. The solutions presented in this book are only the beginning, but if they are utilized, I believe they will go a long way in solving the epidemic of mass shooting
About the Writer:
Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime is forthcoming from Crime Fiction Studies.
A copy of The Violence Project was generously provided to True Crime Index by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.