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Shootings, murder-suicide raise broader question: Is violence linked to recession?

The deaths in North Carolina and California follow other high-profile shootings in recent weeks.

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The potential link between murder-suicides and the economy is an area of study for the Violence Policy Center in Washington. "We've been looking at this issue of whether there are more murder-suicides … [and] a pattern is starting to develop that may point in that direction," says Kristen Rand, legislative director at the center. "Between the Texas Tower shootings in the 1960s until the McDonald's massacre in 1984, it was extremely rare to see these types of mass shootings. Now we're seeing them much more often, and they do seem to happen in spurts."

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To be sure, the gun-control debate is heating up, especially after the recent Alabama shootings where a man killed 11 people, including himself, using semiautomatic, military-style weapons. Gun-control advocates point to gun proliferation as a major cause for the loss of life, especially when families turn on themselves. That appears to be the case in the Santa Clara shootings.

"Studies have shown over and over again that a gun in the home is more likely to be used against a family member than an intruder," says Juliet Leftwich, senior counsel for Legal Community Against Violence in San Francisco.

But the root cause of the violence goes deeper than gun ownership, some argue. "Social isolation is a huge factor" in a country as large and transient as America, which places big emphasis on personal results, Levin says. "If you look at where many of these mass killings have occurred lately, they're in states that have lots of strangers, transients, and drifters, who don't have support systems to get them through tough times," he says.

In the incident in Oakland, which occurred March 21, a parolee shot two officers during a traffic stop, then shot two others during an ensuing manhunt. The parolee also died. It was the biggest single-day, gun-related loss of life for law enforcement in the US since 1993.

The shootings at the nursing home occurred Sunday. Chris McKenzie, police chief in Carthage, N.C., said the gunman, who was killed, may have targeted the home because his estranged wife works there.

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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