Do Mass Shooters Share Characteristics?

Do Mass Shooters Share Characteristics?

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, we all wonder what went wrong and what can be done to prevent more violence in the future. Are there signs we are missing? Are there specific characteristics that predict aggressive behavior?

According to Kathryn Farr of Portland State University, the answer is yes.

Investigating the characteristics shared by 31 school boys involved in 29 mass shootings at American schools between 1995 and 2015, Kathryn Farr of Portland State University found that boys’ social status in middle and high school is determined in great part by peers’ acceptance of them as “appropriately masculine.” When this social status is in question, they become increasingly angry, depressed, more violent in their gendered practice, and develop deep-set grudges against their classmates. A shooting rampage then becomes their ultimate performance (Farr, 2017).

So what are these guidelines for gender appropriateness? Farr describes them as a set of “Adolescent Insider Masculinity” norms that depict masculinity as the ideal that men are cool, heterosexual and tough, shy away from “sissy stuff” and embrace activities, behavior and mannerisms that are typical of “guys” (Farr, 2017).

Of the shooters Farr investigated, ten had a history of serious psychiatric problems, while another ten grew up in extremely abusive households. The remaining eleven boys tended to react explosively and inappropriately to incidents that they perceived as unjustly discrediting them (Farr, 2017).

Farr explains, “Many of the adolescent shooters had personal troubles that affected their ability to manage their social performances at school. Moreover, the potential rampage of a boy with severe mental illness and rampage-related risk factors could be especially injurious” (Farr, 2017).

While all 31 shooters were made aware of their failings through their classmates’ emasculating bullying, rejection by girlfriends, and marginalization in general, most were repeatedly and publicly tagged with homosexual and feminized names such as “homo,” a “cry baby” or “fag” and some even reported being physically and sexually victimized by their male peers (Farr, 2017).

According to Farr, the shooters’ were often perceived as off, either not meeting or exaggerating the Adolescent Insider Masculinity imperatives. However, the shooters themselves typically perceived the responses they received as undeserved injustices that denied them their masculine entitlements. Their actions were often an attempt to reclaim their masculinity. For instance, they often brought guns to school, or emphasized violent themes in their writings, drawings, and class presentations. Almost all had bragged about their rampage plans. Unfortunately, such behavior typically further damaged the boys’ already low social status (Farr, 2017).

What we can do, Farr notes, is become aware of the warning signs, and when we see them, make every effort to reach out to them, and talk about issues such as masculinity, gender norms, and emasculating bullying. And, at the very least, avoid stigmatizing them.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Course:

Counseling Victims of Mass ShootingsCounseling Victims of Mass Shootings is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that gives clinicians the tools they need to help their clients process, heal, and grow following the trauma of a mass shooting.

Sadly, mass shootings are becoming more widespread and occurring with ever greater frequency, often leaving in their wake thousands of lives forever changed. As victims struggle to make sense of the horror they have witnessed, mental health providers struggle to know how best to help them. The question we all seem to ask is, “Why did this happen?”

This course will begin with a discussion about why clinicians need to know about mass shootings and how this information can help them in their work with clients. We will then look at the etiology of mass shootings, exploring topics such as effects of media exposure, our attitudes and biases regarding mass shooters, and recognizing the signs that we often fail to see.

We will answer the question of whether mental illness drives mass shootings. We will examine common first responses to mass shootings, including shock, disbelief, and moral injury, while also taking a look at the effects of media exposure of the victims of mass shootings.

Then, we will turn our attention to the more prolonged psychological effects of mass shootings, such as a critical questioning and reconsideration of lives, values, beliefs, and priorities, and the search for meaning in the upheaval left in the wake of horrific events. This course will introduce a topic called posttraumatic growth, and explore the ways in which events such as mass shootings, while causing tremendous amounts of psychological distress, can also lead to psychological growth. This discussion will include topics such a dialectical thinking, the shifting of fundamental life perspectives, the opening of new possibilities, and the importance of community. Lastly, we will look at the exercises that you, the clinician, can use in the field or office with clients to promote coping skills in dealing with such horrific events, and to inspire psychological growth, adaptation, and resilience in the wake of trauma. Course #31-09 | 2018 | 47 pages | 20 posttest questions

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