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What Drives People To Mass Shootings- A Psychological Study

Ms. Nida Ghani

3 min read

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58 people were killed in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire at a concert. 49 people were killed by Omar Mateen in a gay club in Orlando. A 23-year-old student, Seung-Hui Chang gunned down 32 people in two different locations on the campus of Virginia Tech. 27 people, of which 20 were 6-7-year-old children, were killed by Adam Lanza, aged 20.

The list for the shootings goes on; in the year 2018 alone, the US had 340 incidences of mass shootings. All these statistics point towards the very alarming situation of the mass shootings. Even though the United States of America has the world’s highest number of mass shootings, yet, the U.S government does not even have a functioning definition of what constitutes as a mass shooting. It is incumbent then to get to the bottom of things and realize the tell-tale signs of a mass shooter.

According to President Trump, hatred and mental illnesses are responsible for the shootings. He also identified the glorification of killers in video games and the contagious nature of the shootings as the potential causes. The American public thinks that the entertainment industry, failure to identify and treat people with mental illness and inadequate gun control laws that are to blame for mass shootings.

Extensive research has been conducted to investigate the causes of the shootings, which does not always corroborate the commonly held beliefs.

Mental Illness is the cause of the mass shootings:

Contrary to what most of the people think, and what the POTUS says, mental illness is not the big reason behind the mass shootings. According to psychiatrists, whilst killing people is not a sign of a healthy mind, it is not indicative of mental illness either. Emotions like hatred, resentment, narcissism, the experience of domestic violence etc. are more common to the characteristics of a mass shooter.

A psychiatrist Paul E. Mullen presented a study in which he interviewed five Australian mass shooters. The common characteristics amongst the shooters were that they were socially isolated, rigid, obsessive, had a fascination with guns and were also bullied as children. And whilst they had general signs of depression, they were not clinically depressed. A study presented in 2018 by the FBI showed that of the 63 shooters, only 25 percent were diagnosed with mental illness.

Another study conducted in 2015 showed similar findings; of the 226 perpetrators of mass shootings examined as a part of the study, only 22 percent could be considered mentally ill. On the contrary, mentally ill patients are more likely to be victims rather than aggressors.

Furthermore, according to an expert, whilst 20 percent of the shooters can be undergoing psychosis, the rest of the 80 percent present signs common to most people, including anger, jealousy, resentment etc. Suffice to say, mental illnesses are not the answer to the perplex question of why mass shootings occur.

Violence in video games is the cause of mass shootings:

There is so far no evidence to clearly suggest a strong correlation between the two. A report by the Secret Service and education department in 2004 showed only 12 percent of the shooters showed an interest in violent video games.

The aggression is perpetuated by the games, but that aggression is not significant enough to push people towards mass shooting. Moreover, the games are more popular in Asia than the U.S, yet the incidences of a mass shooting are far higher in the United States. The common consensus is that whilst the video games might propagate aggression, they are not the deciding factor when the killer decides on the shooting.

Getting attention is the cause of the mass shootings:

A common trait amongst the shooters is that they are socially isolated. Therefore, fame may be an important part in pushing them towards shooting, according to the expert Frank Farley. Most shooters are ostracised and this their method of seeking attention. For them, killing spree and the subsequent attention they receive is rather exciting. Forgoing the heinousness of the act, they kill for the thrill. When the shootings happen, the shooters are greatly obsessed over by the security agencies and especially the media.

Their lives are dissected, and they become the talk of the town, the symbol of evil and power, which is exactly what they want. A study in 2004 showed that the mass killers had a chilling desire for fame. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz’s evaluation has yielded that the shooters have a quest for immortality that they achieve through making a record of killing innocent people.

Imitating other shooters is the cause of the mass shootings:

Shooters do indeed get inspired by previous mass shootings. The shooters study the techniques of past shootings to plan their attack. There are several copycat shooters who mimic the previous attempts to pay homage to their version of a hero. They not just emulate the way in which they carry out the attack but get motivation from the ideology or the reasoning underlying the shootings.

They see each other as a part of some brotherhood that is scorned by the rest of the people. Some even worship the past perpetrators, such is their level of obsession.

Due to the gravity of the situation, it is very necessary to find the answer into why mass shootings occur. Even though there are a host of probable causes, nothing certain can be said about the profile of the killers. Not yet can we raise red flags about who is a future killer for sure, but we can mitigate the social and the psychological causes leading to the shootings.

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Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Ms. Nida Ghani - Author Ms. Nida Ghani is a Psychologist practicing in Lahore. Over the last 3 years, she has been helping her patients deal with various mental and psychological conditions. You can get an appointment with her through oladoc.
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