The nation was rocked once again by back to back mass shootings. Why haven’t we done a better job to prevent these mass killings? Is it even possible? I think so, but we’re going to have to work together and not settle for knee jerk fixes like we’ve done in the past.
First step – identifying the problem. The National Institute of Justice has recently completed a study that includes interviewing incarcerated perpetrators, their friends, their family, first responders, the media, social media, they read manifestos, suicide notes and interviewed a host of psychiatric experts. After this extensive study they concluded there was strong commonality among almost all the killers and I’ve listed them below.
There are four common denominators in the personal profile of virtually every killer.
- Severe, long term early childhood trauma and exposure to violence, this included sexual assault, severe bullying, parents that committed suicide and this was often a precursors to mental health issues that frequently resulted in extreme depression, anxiety, thought disorders and or suicidal thoughts.
- There was a crisis point or crisis trigger in the weeks or months preceding their rampage. They become angry and despondent because of a specific grievance. This could have been a parent that died, relationship rejection or loss, fired from the job, change in job status or kicked out of school, and this left them with a crisis trigger, something they could rationalize as justifiable cause for their rampage. This was communicated to others by a marked change in behavior, suicidal plans or talking about specific acts of violence. In almost all cases there was a period of weeks to months where these people could have been identified if those around them were paying attention to the symptoms.
- Notoriety, validation and education. They wanted the world to know their hurt and anger. The thought of leaving behind a legacy the world would remember was a strong incentive. They studied the actions of other mass shooters. They noticed there were scripts to be followed that would guarantee them notoriety, even in death. So they modeled their attack after previous attacks. The news media becomes an important part of the plan. Without the news media speaking their name and showing their pictures every hour, the study concluded it could have drastically compromised their motivation to follow though with the killings. This is why mass shootings always tend to come in clusters; such violence becomes socially contagious. Note: Many are radicalized online in their search for validation.
- Access to weapon or the instrument of injury. Once a person has come to the conclusion that once their life is no longer worth living and that murder is a proper revenge only means and opportunity stand in their way. In over 80% of cases the weapon was obtained in some way from their friends or family. In less than 5% of the cases was the weapon obtained completely lawfully.
Without the publicity, mass killings would lack one of the key reasons motivating the killer. However, for the media to cut back on coverage runs contrary to everything they have been taught to do. They want the whole story, they have been conditioned to publicize the name and face of the killer and to do background stories on them because this is what sells. In a free society like ours I’m not sure how we would ever get the cooperation of the news media, but if we did it would save hundreds of lives, that I have no doubt.
Additional background checks on gun sales may be near worthless. Background checks are nearly universal now, even at gun shows. There’s no evidence to show how expanding the current system would be helpful. But, if the background check included a psychiatric check, that could be helpful in keeping guns out of the hands of some mentally ill persons, not all, but some. Currently we have no way of knowing the psychiatric history because it is difficult to access without a court order. Probation, prisons, child protective services, county jail, psychiatric facilities, parole, courts, law enforcement often operate without sharing valuable case history. We definitely could improve on this through a common data entry point.
Restricting a magazine capacity for a semi-automatic rifle is too simplistic and it diverts our attention away from real solutions – solutions that would identify a problem before it blows up in our face. This is not an easy fix, pass a law and it goes away kind of thing. We’re going to be required to up our game, starting in Congress. In the case of the media, its going to take a monumental effort to reverse what they are currently doing, which is to provide the killer with motivation. We will then find out what is the most important to the media, a juicy story or lives.