• New Perspectives: Motives Behind Mass Shootings

    by Caroline Ryther
    on Dec 1st, 2018

Defining mass shootings isn’t always easy.  The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shooting as "4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter". Nevertheless, the shooter often commits suicide after the attack, making this definition flawed.

Some studies have found that the rate of public mass shootings have tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting happened approximately once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014 that rate has accelerated greatly with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States. When reading worrying statistic like these, it is time we ask ourselves what the true motives are behind these tragic events.

What does the profile of a mass shooter typically look like? And are their actions incentivized by social revenge or mental health problems? Perhaps something completely else.

Some of the most significant risk factors for future mass shooters is a violent personal history and upbringing. Other important risk factors include: substance abuse, bullying at school, witnessing violence between parents, an obsession with arms or death, anger control issues, and social isolation.

One of these are typically not enough to trigger the urge to hurt other people or to gain a sense of social justice or revenge. The more combinations of the above-mentioned factors a person has, the more likely they are to strike. Despite finding and being aware of these characteristics in people around you is not enough to guarantee your safety. Plenty of mass shooters often had no history of past serious violence or tendencies toward aggressive behavior.

An incredibly heartfelt and brave story can be found on TED Talks by Aaron Stark. After growing up in domestic violence, severe neglect and bullying, he was plotting a school or public space shooting, until simple acts of kindness from his friend changed his life. Now with 4 children, 2 cats, and 1 dog, Aaron is happily married to his wife, and continues sharing his story to help people understand what he feels are most significant motives behind mass shootings: loneliness, abuse and desperation. “We have to give love to the people we think deserve it the least, because they need it the most” is Aaron’s message in his TED talk. Whether or not you agree with this statement, Aaron’s story is not unique.

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had no social network, close friendships or family members. He was isolated for many years, starting in early childhood. He grew up in poverty, fear and with a father who had easy access to guns and would rob banks. What if someone had reached out to Stephen at this critical point? 

Imagine if someone showed Stephen kindness, like how Aaron’s friend decided to show him (despite Aaron being hard to deal with). Maybe it would have made a difference is Stephen’s life if random acts of kindness had been handed to him – a gentle smile, an offer to help out at work/school, or simply just listening.

If you or a loved one are suffering from thoughts or urges like these, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the neuroscience center:

Phone: 847-306-8938

Email: pm@mind.md




Author Caroline Ryther

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