Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published a study in June of 2018 on the “Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters” in the United States. The study was a follow-up to one done in 2014, also by the FBI, of active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2013. The earlier study was focused on the circumstances of the active shooter event, whereas the 2018 study looked at the behaviors of the active shooters prior to the event. 

The majority of active shooters are engaged in predatory violence as opposed to the more reactive and spontaneous affective violence. In understanding the pre-attack behaviors of these predators, we can better anticipate and intervene to mitigate their planned actions. Organizations that focus solely on responding should a shooting occur are defaulting to the worst-case scenario. While that planning is beneficial, it needs to be accompanied by a pro-active and strategic approach to violence prevention and intervention in the workplace.

Key findings of the study concluded that:

  • 75% of the attackers previously owned the weapon or legally purchased it.
  • Attackers experienced 3-4 separate stressors in the year before the attack.
  • A majority of the attackers specifically targeted at least one victim.
  • 77% of the attackers spent a week or more planning their attack. 
  • Only 25% of the attackers were diagnosed with a mental illness.
  • The attackers displayed on average 4-5 concerning behaviors.

In addition to the statistical findings, the report further elaborates on the types of observable behaviors, who noticed these behaviors, and how they were first observed. It also breaks down the type of primary grievance by the attacker, whether real or perceived.

More information of the 2018 study can be found at