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Society and Violence - The Mind of Mass Shooters

Updated on December 17, 2012
Who among a civilized society will be desperate enough to hurt the innocent?
Who among a civilized society will be desperate enough to hurt the innocent? | Source
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Many Questions and Few Answers

Anger, hostility, unresolved conflicts and violence erupt everyday, in every corner of the planet. As it becomes more commonplace to hear about mass shootings in schools, in malls, at movie theatres, at houses of worship, people are left to wonder why is this happening?

These events make us ask many questions, and few answers, with meaningless reasons and heavy hearts, with few changes for the future and more tragic stories to come. The roots of violence in America and around the world, leave us with little understanding of why this keeps happening. Everyday disgruntled people use violence as a form of resolving their conflicts and problematic issues.

With increased frequency, we hear more stories of mass violence against innocent and random individuals. As a society we have made little progress in stopping these rampages against people made vulnerable by doing ordinary things in the course of their everyday ordinary lives. When people use violent mass shootings as a way of resolving their own problems, it brings national attention to the idea that the perpetrators of these crimes have few skills to deal with anger and their overwhelming hostility.

Our Evolutionary Past

Chimpanzees fight for the alpha male position
Chimpanzees fight for the alpha male position | Source

Violence Among Chimpanzees

The profile of those that commit these acts invariably fit similar characteristics. In the last 25 years, there has been a 300% increase in adolescent homicides in the U.S.

Why do people behave in such a violent manner? Some theories state that our brains respnd this way from our evolutionary past, that some are prewired to behave this way, that genes are the cause. Certainly some people are more prone to react in a violent manner than others.

In our closest relatives, the chimpanzees have shown violent behavior. Chimps will fight each other to gain leadership to become the alpha male and compete aggresively for dominance. Rank is very important to male apes. Much time consuming energy, persistence, and manipulation is driven by preset emotions that in humans would be equated with arrogance or pride. Once a single chimpanzee achieves the alpha role, violence is reduced dramatically, in part because the alpha male suppresses the fights for dominance among the lower ranking males.

Human beings like to consider themselves superior to the apes. In the adolescent years, peer groups vie for domination and feelings of inclusion. Sports are a common way to compete. Our evolutionary past and cultural influences play a role in the violence a society is impacted with.

The Roots of Violence in Society

The roots of violence in society are interconnected with culture and biology and offer little towards solving the reasons behind these events, and causes great concern for everyone, greater loss and eternal pain. The capacity to understand heinous acts against innocent people, especially in mass shootings, is too much for us to comprehend and to answer the many questions.

The Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence said there are about 20 mass shootings every year. and keeps statistics and has noted that little has been done to stop these types of crimes. While statistics may show that mass shootings are rare, one is too many.

Profiles of Mass Shooters

The perpetrators of these crimes fit into a profile that is over and over again, very predictable.

  • 95% are male

  • 98% are either black or white

  • low self esteem

  • most are in their early 20’s

  • they spend a lot of time alone and have few friends

  • they kill indiscriminately in a public place

  • they carry their acts out during the daylight hours

  • they are ready to make others payback for all the wrongs that were done to them

  • many were bullied and loners who felt great despair over their own plight

They intend to inflict great pain upon society, and enact revenge of great proportions. They are often driven by feelings of anger, resentment, paranoia, and narcissism. They are injustice collectors, meaning they pile up the ideas that they have been mistreated by society. Everyone becomes the enemy and a target of their rage. Psychiatrists termed the word pseudocommandos to describe this type of profile and have developed a list of common traits of the “psuedocommando” type.

  • Their offense is well thought out and well preplanned, except for their escape

  • have a large arsenal of weapons, usually guns and firearms

  • dress for war in black or military garb

  • usually commit suicide or get killed or captured by the police at the scene

  • some may have false beliefs of delusions, or hallucinations often characterized by psychosis

  • their feelings of powerlessness cause them to fantasize about revenge and violence in a grandiose manner.

  • They believe their actions will bring them fame and power

Rarely do they have careers, they are often isolated individuals, and have personalities that are noted by their suspiciousness, obsessions and thoughts of grandiosity. They believe they are persecuted and often have delusional beliefs that lead them to self justification. Their thoughts consume them as they obsess about the wrongs they perceive have been done to them. They intend on killing as many people as they can and often kill themselves at the scene. The events usually take place in a very short period of time, taking out as many people as they possibly can. It appears that people who carry out these acts against innocent people don’t necessarily have a snapping point. They often act without any signs or forewarnings about what they are about to do. These shooting sprees are not a random act.

The federal government conducted a study after the Columbine incident in 1999, of 37 incidents of violence in schools from 1974 to 2000 to gain a better picture of who commits these acts. The results of this commissioned study showed that over 50% of the attackers had suffered from extreme depressin. 25% had major issues with alcohol and drugs.

Bottled Up Feelings Can Be Hidden Until It Is Too Late

Angry people sometimes don't display their feelings until they erupt fiercely and violently.
Angry people sometimes don't display their feelings until they erupt fiercely and violently. | Source

Eruptions of Disgruntled Feelings

Acquaintences who know the attacker often say they are quiet. The family will often state there were hospitalizations and angry outbursts. Some were physically or sexually abused. And all seem to feel powerless. Those who feel powerless have a need to strike back. Their anger and rage builds, they strike with a fierceness and a brutality that will hurt the whole world.

The age of the attackers, being in their early 20’s, is correlated to a still developing brain. Adolescents are more risktakers and greater impulsive behavior. At this age, they lack good judgment. Those who have easier access to guns are more likely to use them. Those who act out in violent manners, have learned to settle things in violent ways, because acting out like this does not seem foreign to them.

Society needs to help people to manage rejection, humiliation, criticism, and frustration. They hold these feelings in. Their emotional energy smolders, and these feelings boil over and eventually erupt in a big way.

These people disengage and isolate themselves from others and begin to obsess about the acts they are determined to carry out, often with a fascination over guns and firearms. They feel like they are the victims and no one will be exempt from their carnage. They blame others for their misery and misfortune. The shooter usually does himself in after they have committed their angry rampage, perhaps because they have preplanned everything but how to get away.

Afterwards everyone asks why and the answer is for multiple reasons. Perhaps they feel glory from their actions, they know they will be famous for their acts, and finally call attention to themselves. They feel powerful and significant. Research has shown that a mass shooting is often committed within two weeks after a previous one got media attention.

The Brain and Violent Actions

In teens and young adults, the frontal lobes of the brain have not fully matured enough for complete self control, reasoning, and wisdom. Behavior is a direct result of the way our brain works.

Family violence has an affect on the brains of children. Chronic stress can trigger stress responses in the brain. It is a biological response that helps us recognize and react to feeling threatened. These responses can become over stimulated from chronic and long term stress. The amygdala, a part of the brain that is related to emotional responses, can predispose a person to mental and behavioral problems, especially anxiety. When someone is under constant stress, the amygdala becomes over-reactive, making them ready to react if they feel threatened. This has been documented neurologically in soldiers.

Children who grow up in environments that feel threatening to them have less energy to learn how to deal with age appropriate challenges, social situations, and cognitive skills. Growing up feeling threatened, can inhibit imagination.Their emotional response may be out of proportion to the level of threat that occurs or they perceive. This may cause excessive aggression in the belief that they are defending themselves. They react maladaptively and create mayhem upon civilized society.

Psychopaths, many of whom commit violent crimes, were studied by scientists at King’s College London. The research showed they had structural abnormalities in their brains, using. MRIs, Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Psychopaths typically have little empathy or remorse towards others or their actions, and often may use intentional aggression to get what they want. Neural deficiencies may account for their lack of moral reasonings, lack of guilty feelings and lack of empathy.

News Makes Them Famous

Media attention may spur more such acts.
Media attention may spur more such acts. | Source

The Desire to Feel Important and Significant

As a country, the United States has dealt with mass violence too many times. From Columbine High School Colorado, Virginia Tech University, Tuscon Arizona shooting involving Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, the movie theatre shooting in Aurora Colorado, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin,the Oregon Mall shooting and the shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, are just some of the events that have shaken the consciousness of our nation.

The reasons for each of these events remains elusive and may never be very well understood. The results of the acts they carry out leave society and its most innocent victims vulnerable to attacks that continue to grab world wide attention. The desire for revenge is a universal theme in all these incidents, perhaps giving them justification for their actions. Their anger and resentment has fueled the beliefs they have been persecuted and mistreated.

Since they have suffered, they want others to pay and suffer. Through their powerlessness they want to gain power and fame for their wounded self esteem and feelings of insignificance. They are motivated by a highly personal agenda which came about from a maladaptive behavior, mental distress or mental illness.

Those who carry out these acts share many common psychological characteristics. Those who are victims of these events share many common characteristics too, they were doing ordinary things in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are debates that video games influence dangerous behavior, that the media encourages copycats, that more needs to be done to provide better mental health. Society is falling short on protecting its citizens. The President of the United States and every politician we have elected to public office needs to take an active stand about what laws they will enact that will protect us so that these events happen less frequently, not more.


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    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi San, In all things there are good and bad. In societies going back to ancient times stories of the innocent being massacred can be found. The story of Sandy Hook Elementary School is not new, but it is enough. The reasons these events happen are complex. There is no one cause and no one solution. Gun control is a start. Care of the mentally ill is important. As a society we can't prevent everything, but somethings could be avoidable. And that is the point. How many of these occurrences can we avoid going forward? You are absolutely correct when you say we need to have a voice and people to listen. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    • profile image

      Sanxuary 5 years ago

      If you looked back far enough you would learn this began with the destruction of the Unions and the creation of a new work culture. The first mass killings began in the US Postal service after the air traffic controllers were fired for striking. People who were considered perfectly normal and had been good employees were suddenly losing their minds. This same culture has lead to the court systems where entire families end up dead and it was only a matter of time before it reached our children and the mentally ill. A drug abuser persecuted for his addiction commits suicide by cop is a good example. My point is that we are way off the real issue and that gun control will not solve the problem. These people who believe that they have been alienated or persecuted and are angry will still carry out senseless acts that never find justice. A man who was out of work and unable to pay child support, left a court house soon to be incarcerated. He poured a can of gasoline on himself and lit himself on fire. The parents who want no competition in sports and everyone to be a winner is a good example of the counter culture that we are living in. Only by having a voice to explain a problem and a society willing to listen will we change this culture of hopelessness.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Tom, Your comment says so much. Thanks for reading and commenting and for the up votes. Merry Merry Christmas to you too.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, it is so sad but we see more and more of this type of killing happen too often. And what will it take for our government to do something to prevent this kind of thing from happing ??? Sorries are not enough anymore we want more from those who make the laws.

      Vote up and more !!!

      Wishing you a very Merry Christmas !

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Pdog, There are so many complicated aspects to stories like this, no easy solutions, just lots of pain. I agree that the thinking in the U.S. needs to be questioned, especially when we are not even protecting our children.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi E, I too am so sad about this story, it helps me to write about it. On a different topic, I want to congratulate you for making the 23rd installment of BillyBuc's hub. You well deserve it.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Virginia, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is very hard to prevent things like this from profiling people. But certainly semi automatic weapons and the ease of which they are gotten make it easier to attack in mass, even if violence has decreased since ancient times. I always appreciate your comments.

    • profile image 5 years ago

      Thanks TKI - this is so true - I think the bullied as a child thing is so significant and it's important to deal with it - both in families and in certain cultures that accept it as part of childhood. Once someone has been humiliated in the extreme - it would seem only a small step to committing some of these heinous crimes that are like misguided paybacks. In Australia we do not allow semi-automatic weapons. In America the policy is that it is people who kill not guns - the gun culture is pretty entrenched and the gun lobby is strong. Your articles are always so well written.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      So so sad and beyond this I have no words. Thank you so much for sharing this hub.


    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Very good information which puts together many of the points people are considering. I did hear one violence expert suggest that one problem in prevention is that many people actually fit the pattern of a mass murderer personality but don't ever act out. So it is hard to predict who will. I do believe that the statistics on violence overall show a greatly decreased amount of violence since ancient times..

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Kathi, You are right, statistics have a way of being slanted, but I still think our world is more violent and more delicate than decades ago. And I agree that kids don't respect their time in school. Some kids don't get enough attention from their parents. I think our world is too materialistic and not enough family values. And for all that is going on, things don't seem to be getting any better. I agree we could use help with a higher power. We need help for sure.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Helen, Thank you for sharing my hub. Stories like this make me so sad. There are no easy answers and it is so disturbing to think about how innocent victims get cut down for no reason. It just makes me question why do things like this keep happening? There are no good answers.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Bill, Change is what is needed, but the question is, will it ever come and will it be enough? We need to hold everyone to higher standards from politics to parenting, from expectations of our youth, to care for those who need mental health care and to learn to respect each other so much more than we do. Our world needs a lot of fixing, especially when it comes to protecting children. I read if we don't protect our children, we have no future.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I often wonder if when they come up with statistics such as violence in teens is up 300% within the last 25 years, if they take into consideration the increased population. Anyway, as a school teacher (former) discipline in the classroom was more difficult than when we grew up. Parents having more power and disrespect of authority made the problem worse. What I witnessed were kids spending too much time on computer games, broken homes, two working parents. All these things contributed. I hope as a nation we can find solutions, but I believe we could use a higher power to help us with that!

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      An excellent hub that opens up the debate about mass shootings in an intelligent and well thought out way.

      Seeing the photographs of the little ones who died along with their teachers is heartbreaking!!

      This horrific incident, brings this form of crime back into the open and I agree that one o f the main motivations for this violence is attention, power and fame. I know many people are again asking about the gun laws and more control etc. I don't know if that is the answer. In Britain, more particularly Scotland, they have very strict gun laws, but it didn't stop the kids and teachers at Dunblane Primary School from getting murdered by a gunman.

      This was an excellent hub and very well argued and presented! Voted up + shared!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Beautiful and powerful message my friend. You are becoming an excellent writer. Your final point is right on....I want politicians to do more than promise change...I expect them to be the instruments of that change.