I’ve written columns like this a few times now, dating back almost a couple of decades.

If memory serves, the first time I wrote this column was in 1999 after the Columbine High School massacre, where 13 people – 12 students and a teacher – were gunned down by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

There have been dozens and dozens of school shootings in our nation’s history, dating back to Nov. 2, 1840, when in Charlottesville, Virginia, John Anthony Gardner Davis, a law professor at the University of Virginia, was fatally shot by student Joseph Semmes, and died three days later.

Aside from the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting where 18 people were killed, the vast majority of school shootings involved one or two victims.

But somewhere along this nation’s journey into senseless violence, it seems perpetrators stumbled onto the bizarre, macabre notion that the more innocent victims there were, the better.

Since Columbine, mass shootings have become more frequent and more deadly.

And the venues have become more diverse – Walmart, a movie theater, a crowded nightclub, a busy street scene.

Here’s an excerpt from a Mother Jones article by a couple of Harvard University researchers.

According to our statistical analysis of more than three decades of data, in 2011 the United States entered a new period in which mass shootings are occurring more frequently. Our analysis used data compiled by Mother Jones on attacks that took place in public, in which the shooter and the victims generally were unrelated and unknown to each other, and in which the shooter murdered four or more people.

Their research shows the rate of public mass shootings has tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. But between 2011 and 2014, that rate had increased to at least one mass shooting every 64 days.

I think this is a pretty fair representation of the problem – a reasonable definition of what constitutes a mass shooting.

Some outfits use definitions that make the problem seem worse than it is. One group – using broader criteria that counts incidents where no one died – claimed earlier this week that there were 251 mass shootings in the U.S. during the first 216 days of 2019.

Widely publicized in the media, I believe that’s a stretch.

Regardless, it’s apparent that mass shootings are on the rise in the U.S.

But here’s the weird thing about this: Crime is down.

I know most people probably find that hard to believe. It’s not trumpeted by the media. Far from it. If anything, the media push the narrative that lawlessness is on the rise.

But according to the FBI, crime is down – and not just a little. The Uniform Crime report for 2016 shows the following:

Change in incidents per 100,000 people, 1991-2016.

Violent Crime

Murder    –45.5%

Rape    –30%

Robbery    –82.3

Assault    –42.7

Property Crime

Burglary    –62.6%

Theft    –48%

Auto theft    -84.1%

And this followed a small uptick in violent crime between 2015 and 2016 or the numbers would have been even better.

More recently, preliminary statistics show declines – in the range of 2% – in both violent crime and property crime in the first half of 2018 when compared to statistics from the first half of the previous year.

This is according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, released in February.

So what is going on here?

Crime is down – I mean way down.

So why are mass shootings on the rise? What is different today than 20 years ago?

Experts on such things would say there are lots of factors working together to fertilize the mass murder rate.

Things like access to firearms, bullying, copycats, mental illness, desire for fame or infamy, use of anti-depressants, glamorization of violence in gaming and entertainment and economic or social envy.

I’m sure those things play a role, but those factors always have been in play. There’s nothing new there.

So I kept asking myself, “What’s different?”

You may think I’m crazy, but I believe the biggest driver of the mania that spawns mass shootings is social media.

Is it just a mere coincidence that the rise of the Internet coincides with a rise in mass shootings?

Maybe.

I don’t have any data or research to cite, because, frankly, none exists, but lets think this through.

Let’s say – before social media – a mentally ill, bullied, economically and socially depressed young man had thoughts of gunning down a bunch of people.

If he was thinking those things, who would he share his thoughts with?

His family? No way. You’re not going to tell dad, mom, brother Billy or sister Sally you want to go to a Walmart and slaughter 20 innocent people with an AR-15.

Friends? Same result. In extremely rare cases – Columbine’s Harris and Klebold, for example – you might have a like-minded friend. But virtually all mass shooters act alone and are deemed loners by their acquaintances.

Before the Internet, I believe a would-be mass shooter’s inability to share these thoughts created a mental atmosphere where conscience and reality had a fighting chance of taking over. “I can’t even tell anybody this stuff, let alone carry it out. I can’t do this. I must be crazy.”

Enter social media where not only can you easily share those thoughts, but you can share them with like-minded individuals who actually encourage you to act on them. Next thing you know, the idea doesn’t sound crazy at all. You’re emboldened. You’re motivated.

You know the rest of the story.

Problem is, social media is here to stay. We can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube. Plus, when you start talking about monitoring people’s social media interactions you run into privacy and First Amendment concerns.

And how do you decide who’s just shooting off his mouth as opposed to shooting off his weapon?

It’s truly a vexing problem and I don’t envy policy makers charged with solving it.

Next week, we’ll look at some of those policies and the narratives that drive them.