This is America
It’s a truly unique American problem, mass shootings. It seems every week there is a new mass shooting. From Virginia Tech to Northern Illinois University (which I very much lived through back in 2008) to a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, to a small AME Church in South Carolina, mass shootings can happen anywhere and at any time. These random acts of violence are seemingly now as American as apple pie.
“In the 50 years before the Texas tower shooting, there were just 25 public mass shootings in which four or more people were killed, according to author and criminologist Grant Duwe. Since then, the number has risen dramatically, and many of the deadliest shootings have occurred within the past few years.”
One of my biggest issues around the media coverage and the narrative surrounding mass shooters is that it’s always the same old story. The media will go to the “Mentally Ill” shooter excuse. This is indeed true when the killer is a white male. Yes, there is one thing that most mass shooters have in common. That is, the majority of them are men, not that they have a mental illness.
“Some of these mass shooters were known to have violent tendencies or criminal pasts. Others seemed largely fine until they attacked. All but 3 were male. The vast majority were between the ages of 20 and 49. More than half — 90 of them — died at or near the scene of the shooting, often by killing themselves.”
So, yes, it seems that men are most likely to be the shooter when these heinous acts are committed. But there is no reliable indicator stating being mentally ill will lead someone to become a mass shooter. Some mass shooters have a violent and criminal past, and others don’t like the latest shooting perpetrated by a Marine Corps Veteran in California. His story further adds fuel to the crazy veteran stereotype. The truth is PTSD doesn’t create homicidal ideation; many veterans live healthy and productive lives despite their mental health issues.
- Most individuals with serious mental illness are not dangerous
- Most acts of violence are committed by individuals who are not mentally ill
- Individuals with serious mental illness are victimized by violent acts more often than they commit violent acts
- Being a young male or a substance abuser (alcohol or drugs) is a greater risk factor for violent behavior than being mentally ill
- No evidence suggests that people with serious mental illness receiving effective treatment are more dangerous than individuals in the general population.
I have my own history of mental health issues, and I have family members who live with mental illness. The sad reality is that more people with mental illness are likely to hurt themselves versus multiple random people in a public space. These mass shootings may seem like random acts of violence, but these mass shooters all have something in common. They well-planned their acts of violence and have justified (though delusional) reasoning for their acts of violence. This means these aren’t people having psychotic breaks or are bullied lone wolves or all of sudden just snapping one day. These mass killings take a very rational and well-thought-out approach to inflict maximum damage on an unsuspecting public.
As a social worker and veteran, it’s very troubling that the “mentally ill” shooter story is always propagated by the media. Only a small percentage of mass shooters have some mental health issue, but they all have another thing in common rather or not they have a violent personal history. These individuals are sociopaths or psychopaths. Any psychologist or clinician will tell you that there’s no cure for sociopathy or psychopathy. There’s much debate amongst experts about these terms. Maybe people are born that way, or some life event turns a person into a sociopath. Sociopaths can be unsettling and volatile. Psychopaths can be very charismatic, cunning, and meticulous in nature. Not everyone who has been diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath is violent or will be violent. But these mass shooters all have that in common with each other. They are seemingly unmoved by the pain and suffering they’ve caused or hoped to gain infamy and glory from their violent actions.
Labeling mass shooters as mentally ill harms the masses of people who deal with mental health issues daily. It makes people afraid to seek treatment or get medical attention. People don’t want to be labeled, especially something that’s linked to horrific and senseless acts of violence. Stigmatizing mental illness leaves people who live with mental health problems alone in the dark, afraid to come into the light. As a society, we must do better to change the narrative and look to real solutions in ending this tragic phenomenon of mass shootings. We must stop using mental illness as a scapegoat for excusing these tragedies with more “thoughts and prayers.”