Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 16, 2021

Randomness in hospital shootings dismissed

By TONY WU | October 4, 2012

Every hospital shooting is broadly covered by mass media. The public horror and disgust associated with each shooting begs the question: Why hospitals? As places of healing, hospitals are considered to be a refuge for those who are ill or injured.

The idea that anyone can violate this sanctuary and kill those who are healing or being healed seems fundamentally wrong. As a result, several researchers at Hopkins Hospital analyzed various cases that spanned 11 years and compiled a report that illustrates some disconcerting facts about hospital shootings.

Humans’ inherent fear of guns reflects our preoccupation with the issue of hospital shootings. Due of its gruesome nature of striking down ill and innocent patients, hospital shootings receive far more attention and time than other incidents.

Contrary to popular belief, shootings in hospitals do not involve psychopaths running around the building, guns-a-blazing. “The Annals of Emergency Medicine,” a report by researchers at the Hopkins School of Medicine, states that most of the assailants staged the shootings with a particular victim in mind.

Furthermore, the victim usually has connections with the perpetrator. The report lists some top reasons for these shootings as: revenge, suicide or euthanizing a relative who is perceived to be in pain. Together, these three motives make up about 60 percent of the explanations for shootings in the hospital.

Furthermore, the research reveals some common ground between most of the cases. The majority of the perpetrators are male (about 91 percent) but all age groups are included. with no bias in between. In addition, the common assumption that most shootings occur without rational reason or motives is disproved through a study of 154 hospital shootings.

Only 13 percent of the reported shooting cases are delegated to ambient violence or mentally unstable patients. These statistics all portray the perpetrator as someone who rationally thinks through their actions and decides that shootings are the best course of action. Surprisingly, the report also reveals a disturbing fact about hospital shootings. Almost a quarter of the cases were carried out through the use of a gun from the security in the building.

In order to address the dangers and potentiality of hospital shootings, the report proposes that hospitals should hire more security personnel. Instead of installing sophisticated machines such as magnetometers, the researchers suggest that more human elements should be added to the overall security of the hospital.

Since weapons can be smuggled into hospitals in a variety of ways, the machines only create a false impression that the building is safe from attack. More importantly, there should be more stringent policy and control of firearms among the security officers. The apparent ease with which the shooters can acquire guns from the security indicates that this component is lacking.

In addition, the study shows that more than 40 percent of the shootings occur outside of hospitals, while the metal detectors are staged inside the hospital. Similarly, because of the large volume of visitors and patients who go through hospitals, metal detectors and screenings are ineffective.  The researchers also emphasize that it is simply impossible to create a risk-free environment in hospitals, even with an increase in security.

While the report mainly focuses on the implementation of preventative measures in hospitals and their associated difficulties, it also reassures the public that, despite the media circus surrounding hospital shootings, statistics show that being shot in the hospital is less likely than getting struck by lightning.

Even though it may seem unbelievable in light of the intense media coverage surrounding this topic, it is still safer to be in the hospital than standing outside while it’s raining.

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