Psychology of School Shooters – Asking What Brings People to Extreme Violence

Gabriel Maldonado, Staff Writer

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Psychology is not the only factor to consider when looking for the cause of school shootings. Cultural conditions and gun accessibility also affect the recent frequency of school shootings. However, it is definitely a factor. The current generation of teenagers is known to be less satisfied with life and themselves, although many shooters show a dislike of others, rather than themselves. And while actual mental illnesses were not found to have much of an impact, a person’s way of thinking and their frame of mind can be the key to stopping shootings before they are even planned.

Mental illness is often suggested as a cause of mass shootings and other forms of violence. Contrary to this belief, psychologytoday.com states that those with a mental illness are actually 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. And yet, many people assume mental illness is the main contributor to violence, with 46% of Americans believing that those with mental illness are more dangerous than the general population. Those that deal with mental illness do struggle with thoughts more, however, when extra factors are added.

It is often found that shooters reminisce over fantasies of killing for months, perhaps years. As they continue imagining, the scenario is revised and made more detailed, to the point where their moral standings can be skewed, and they begin planning an actual attack since their inhibition has been worn down by their own thinking. This form of thinking is more likely to develop when students are lonely and/or rejected, since it can make them feel a resentment towards people, and social isolation was found to be a commonality in many school shooters. “Those kinds of divisions fester in people,” says Mr. Bone, Coronado’s social worker, “[and] they fester faster in people that are struggling with mental health concerns.” An intervention may be important in preventing this mentality from forming, before plans are formed, and people get worried because of threats.

A glorification of violence can also contribute to a shooter’s fantasizing. Shooters often show a desire to feel powerful and in control. In addition to this, some shooters are narcissistic, and some of them display traits of psychopathy, being able to put on a normal front, while actually not feeling normal emotions and empathy. While not all shooters are psychopathic, two of the recents in the news, Nikolas Kruz and Jessie Osborn, both displayed increasingly volatile behaviour that could be linked to psychopathy. Regardless, most of the previous shooters had an obsession with violence and killing, some finding joy in killing bugs and animals.

Those that commit shootings often spend long periods of time feeling as though the world has wronged them, and that vengeance and violence are valid options. While they may not think extreme violence is justified when they begin fantasizing, their acceptance of violence and vengeance in general eventually leads to this moral barrier being broken. Except for the psychopathic, who already have a lowered caring of others, feeling abandoned by the world and glorifying violence can unfortunately lead to them acting upon their fantasies.

Understanding what drives a person to the point of violence is crucial in stopping school shootings. While schools, friends, and students cannot control the conditions in which potential shooters are raised, it is possible to make sure that they are not socially isolated to the point where they antagonize the world. “The best thing we could do to insulate ourselves from things going downhill with any given student is to be an accepting place for people,” says Mr.Bone, adding that “even if you don’t want to be good friends with somebody, treat each other with enough respect”.  Remember that, while in America there is a higher rate of shootings, they are still extremely rare, and you are “six to seven times more likely to be struck by lightning than die in a school shooting.” It’s good to stay vigilant, but the chances are low enough to where you should not worry when coming to school. It is important that any real threats or plans be reported to the school and police, though in the meantime, try to be accepting of everyone rather than breathing an air of fear.

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Psychology of School Shooters – Asking What Brings People to Extreme Violence