In these troubled times, American politicians tend to worship at the altar of feelings – especially following inexplicable violent events like El Paso and Dayton. Therefore, it’s critical for them to stop, listen, and learn. In a rush to legislate away these problems, the political elite appears primed to emphasize the wrong syllable, which will result only in more harm than good. Thus, the American people are wise to understand this teachable moment and attempt to educate their lawmakers.
Surprisingly little has been done in recent years to examine the mind of a mass shooter. This is perhaps because most of them die during the catastrophe they initiate. Criminologists are then left to perform little more than a psychological autopsy. Still, forensic psychiatrists can and should shed light on these American tragedies because legislation without the foundation of knowledge often makes the situation worse.
Wisdom from James Joyce
Irish author James Augustine Aloysius Joyce once wrote, “In the particular is contained the universal.” Mining the gold of “the particular” can be especially helpful when seeking to understand a seemingly incomprehensible event. In the Dayton, OH, incident, an examination of 24-year-old Connor Betts reveals a psychological profile startlingly similar to that of other shooters:
- He is a single male.
- He was a troubled teen.
- He once drew up a “hit list” of students he wanted to kill or maim.
- He experienced serial rejection from the opposite sex.
A leading forensic psychiatrist and expert in mass murders, Dr. James Knoll, says that “most perpetrators are young males who act alone after carefully planning the event,” according to Psychology Today. These people, Knoll asserts, are “injustice” collectors – that is, they spend a good deal of time living in a world of rejection and past “humiliations,” real or imagined. In other words, these men are world-class grudge-holders fueled by “social persecution or envy.” They are lonely loners searching for significance:
“Aggrieved and entitled, he longs for power and revenge to obliterate what he cannot have. Since satisfaction is unobtainable lawfully and realistically, the mass murderer is reduced to violent fantasy and pseudo-power. He creates and enacts an odious screenplay of grandiose and public retribution. Like the child who upends the checkerboard when he does not like the way the game is going, he seeks to destroy others for apparent failures to recognize and meet his needs. Fury, deep despair, and callous selfishness eventually crystallize into fantasies of violent revenge on a scale that will draw attention. The mass murderer typically expects to die and frequently does in what amounts to a mass homicide-personal suicide. He may kill himself or script matters so that he will be killed by the police.”
Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Psychology Today uses this information to assert that the best we can do is limit such a person’s access to firearms. However, this conclusion belies a shooter’s psychological profile. What would make the magazine conclude that a violent, deranged man with homicidal tendencies would rein in his emotional and psychological angst to follow the rules and deprive his itchy trigger finger of a gun?
It is illogical at best to believe these people will follow the rules like law-abiding citizens. Moreover, an FBI report on active-shooter incidents that occurred in 2016 and 2017 concluded:
- In ten incidents, citizens confronted the shooter.
- In eight of those incidents, one or more citizens safely and successfully acted to end the shooting.
- In four incidents, citizens possessing valid firearms permits successfully stopped the shooter.
- In two incidents, citizens exchanged gunfire with the shooter.
- In two incidents, the citizens held the shooter at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived.
Statistics in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods consistently demonstrate that gun control is an ineffective means of reducing the homicide rate. The American people, as well as their representatives, should be aware that the facts and figures, as well as the psychological make-up of the perpetrators, tell a vital story. As LN’s Graham Noble recently pointed out, if fewer guns meant less violence, Baltimore and Chicago would be the safest cities on the planet.
But they’re not, are they?
Thus, it seems only sensible that those who wield the power of the pen and represent us in government not haul off on an emotional bender to prescribe ineffective and useless methods to heal gun violence. The available statistics and psychological profiles of shooters are not simply tea leaves; within them lie the ability to better understand the root of the problem. In the wake of mass shootings, the inflamed and knee-jerk cries for Draconian gun legislation heightens the concerns of law-abiding citizens, who are the ones stifled. Gun owners deprived of the capacity to stop violent acts in progress or defend themselves know this only fuels the ability of homicidal maniacs to turn their fantasies into reality.
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