FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
In the horrific aftermath of the shootings this year at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (Conn.), the mall in Portland (Ore.), and during the Batman movie in Aurora (Colo.), many media commentators and elected officials have made comments about the inevitability of additional attacks. The public also appears to have an insatiable appetite for information about the causes of these spree killers who theoretically just “snapped” and went on their homicidal path.
Both concepts are flawed. The purported inevitability of attacks, coupled with the concept these killers suddenly became homicidal with no known motivation, is certainly sensational, but also unsupported by research on this type of attack.
Spree Shooters Plan Attacks
Spree shooting is a terrible homicidal violence that isn’t conducted in the spur of the moment. Review of the American and foreign school shootings have always found elaborate planning by the shooters. The study of attack locations, identification of unsuspecting soft targets in “gun-free zones” and elaborate attack plans are often combined with computer research about suicide, homicide and weapons. Selection of camouflage or tactical-type clothing seems to be a common theme as well as obtaining weapons and ammunition. This is very organized behavior by individuals who are often labeled as having mental health issues or believe to be insane. Clearly, anyone who engages in this terrible criminal behavior is making a large number of decisions over an extended time and can be identified as potential lethal behavior.
In the American society, violence is often inflicted in the heat of passion, or under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Spree killers aren't acting out in the moment—they're long-term planners who may have a passion, but the execution is in cold blood. They may extend their anger or passion over extended time periods, building plans based on old events or even an emerging situation that dove tails into their old programming and grudges. It makes sense to them—not to us. How could rational people make such plans even to the point that they may include committing suicide after they have executed their big statement to the world?
The actual motivation for the shooter may be unfathomable to the public at large. This behavior is so unreasonable to us it appears alien. Interestingly enough, the term “alienist” was applied to psychologists and psychiatrists in the early 1900s when they studied murderers who were alienated from normal human emotions and connections, or whose acts were so outside the realm of “normal” they were deemed to be “alien“ to human nature.
There's obviously no excuse for killing defenseless groups of people, and this “insane behavior” makes no sense. From the shooter’s side, they don’t worry about making sense, they're making decisions based upon their own thoughts, advancing violent plans and showing clear intent to harm all in furtherance of their own perceived grievances or issues.
Behavioral Red Flags
This long-planned violence isn't inevitable, and doesn't exist in a cloak of unidentifiable secrecy. Much like sharks or other dangerous animals who exhibit exaggerated attack behaviors prior to attack, these deadly shooters show their behaviors long before they appear to “just snap.” They may have exhibited years of anti-social behavior or mental illness. All of the planning and gathering of necessary items for the big attack may also be conducted in plain view of friends, family and the public, along with verbal and written statements of hate and threats of violence.
Troubled and mentally unbalanced people show visible and reoccurring aspects of their problems to friends and family who may fail to recognize it as criminal. Or they just hope it isn't a precursor to violence, but don't intercede. Most parents would never believe their offspring could be capable of murdering multiples of human beings in cold blood, but have observed bad or psychotic behaviors for years prior to the big event right along with other precursor events in school or at work.
How many Sunday evening late night T.V. news interviews have we all seen following a murder that include neighbors who describe the killer as "a quiet man”? They may haven't seen the many problems suffered by the shooter or were witness to degrading behaviors, but many people may have witnessed individual pieces that should have been cause for alarm.
For the American public, there's an unfortunate trend to shun or avoid angry and troubled people and hope nothing bad happens. Or if it does spring forth, they believe they're problems for the police to deal with. The cop who takes a report about verbal threats or odd behavior rarely gets information about the person’s life behaviors that are often endured by family, friends and teachers.
Spree Killers & Firearms
One of the most obvious danger issues we seize upon is of course the use of firearms obtained by spree killers. Media outlets broadcast the brand and type of weapons used, get commentators to speak about them and politicians call for restrictions and bans—all without embracing the notion that firearms are inanimate objects that are misused by these murderers.