To Bear: A Commentary on Mass Shootings in the United States Part 2

Please note I am not a licensed professional. I do, however, have a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, have done intelligence testing with college students and therapy with adults, and have been more generally in the field for going on 13 years. But I am NOT licensed for any clinical work, though maybe one day…

My husband wrote recently about gun control and, as psychology is not his field, he asked me to write a bit about it and mental illness.

I’ll be honest, I am a pacifist and advocate for no guns. I have also not been following the movement the Parkland students have begun as closely as he has. But the point of this post is really to discuss people and what could, in theory, lead to them turning guns on their fellow humankind.

We’ve talked, my husband and I, about psychological issues, mental illness, and psychopathy (not a real diagnosis, by the way). We’ve discussed Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) (which involves a failure to confirm to social norms, irresponsibility, reckless behavior, aggressiveness, deceitfulness, lack of remorse, among others). We’ve talked about what might make someone snap. We’ve talked about crimininality, which he will talk about in the future.

I want to point out that not every person who has committed a wrongful deed has APD, just like not every person with APD has gone on a shooting rampage.

How do they get to the APD diagnosis, though? A personality disorder cannot be given until the age of 18 and there must be an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior. Interestingly, there is a path to APD that starts early on in childhood, though not every child that starts this way will end with APD! I say this because it often starts with a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. As the child who eventually gets the APD diagnosis ages, it evolves into Oppositional Defiant Disorder, where they are, as the diagnosis says, defiant. By adolesence, it becomes Conduct Disorder, where the child violates social norms and rules (they break laws). By the time they have settled into adulthood, it has become Antisocial Personality Disorder. Again, not everyone follows this course to the end, but it can usually be traced backwards through this route.

Clearly, there are behavioral problems starting at a young age, but this doesn’t mean they will pick up a gun or two and turn it on other humans.

Instead, there are many other diagnoses that could be involved. I am not an expert, so will refrain from mentioning what I think could contribute. But I want to mention schizophrenia. We all know what this is. It’s the quintessential “crazy person.” This is an interesting one because it doesn’t manifest until late teens to mid-30s with peak onset being around mid-20s. So, college age or so. Most people with schizophrenia, though, require support of some degree for the rest of their lives and are largely non-functional in normal society.

But it’s not just mental illnesses that might be involved! There are very human factors that play a role, like bullying, vocational problems, relational issues, anger issues, and people just being people.

A few years ago, there was a shooting in San Bernardino, Ca. A man walked into a work event and began shooting. At the time, everyone was trying to link it to terrorism. And while there were definite ties, it was triggered by work-related circumstances. Does anyone even remember this event?

The point is that people are flawed in many ways. Sometimes they work, sometimes they are dealt with, sometimes they just don’t work. As a writer, I like to refer to them as character flaws. When reading, we enjoy a flawed hero, right? Someone who isn’t perfect. Maybe there are anger issues, or jealousy, or egoism, or perfectionism, or any number of other characteristics that make a character seem more normal.

So, too, are real people flawed. We are not perfect, but most of us are able to cope. Some people, though, can’t (which is why I chose to be in psychology because people always have issues and it would keep me in a job!). But does this mean they will pick up a gun and start shooting people? Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe one day someone just snaps and decides to take action. Maybe one day someone has had it with being slighted and takes action. Maybe one day someone wakes up and realizes it is the day they decided to take action.

Then again, maybe one day someone snaps and seeks help. Maybe one day someone feels slighted and talks to the perpetrators. Maybe one day someone wakes up and realizes they don’t want to do it anymore.

People make decisions all the time. People who come from all walks of life. What makes someone decide to do or not do something? That’s a complex issue and person-dependent. There may be similarities across perpetrators, but it is also dependent on individual characteristics.

In the end, anyone could be a mass shooter. It depends on what we do with who we are and what we have.

My husband asks what makes someone do this.

I always say I can’t answer that because everyone is an individual with a different set of genetics and experiences. There are many reasons, and, likely, we may never truly know why anyone does anything. But one thing we do know: people are flawed.

  1. Sean M.

    I agree that there are many influences and variables that lead someone to the path of violence; whether in the form of spousal abuse, child abuse, or mass shootings. In the case of mass shootings, I think we need to give more equal time to not only gun laws and the accessibility of purchasing firearms, but to the mental health issues associated with the actions and the state of lobbying within our government. There is very rarely a simple cause for behavior and I think we as a society have to be careful not to oversimplify the situation.

    • kat

      Exactly! It’s always a gun issue right away because that’s the easy conversation. Once you want to talk about mental health, whether a diagnosis or day to day problems, people shut down and don’t want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. One blogger has also written about all these shooters being male, which suggests we are, in some way, failing boys and men. Mass shootings are more than about guns. It’s a societal problem on many levels and we hope that one day it will become the topic of conversation instead of guns and the 2nd Amendment. Thank you so much for your comment and your thoughts!

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