Not One More: Why are spree killings exploding around us?

Welcome to this month’s Murderer’s Market, and today, we’re dealing with the topic of spree killings. As a crime fiction writer, I’m peeling back the curtain on some of my research to share with you. Come along for the ride as we delve into this dangerous topic.

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The ever increasing aggressiveness of mankind against each other rocks daily headlines, as individuals fall victim to spree killers, who snuff out their lives often with little to no prodding, as if human life has such little worth. Why are we suffering from an extraordinary amount of spree killings?

This question has plagued me over these last few days, and while my fingers have done many searches and I’ve listened to a multitude of data, there doesn’t seem to be a clear and concise answer.

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Image courtesy of Aliasha at Morguefile

Mental disorder

After the Colorado movie theater shooting happened, and violent video games, movies and books were thrown under the bus, people began to talk and find out that one of the main ingredients needed for a spree killer, beside a propensity for violence, is a mental disorder.  David Brooks, in his article titled, “Spree killings: psychological, not sociological,” stated, “It’s probably a mistake to think that we can ever know what “caused” these rampages…Many of the killers had an exaggerated sense of their own significance, which, they felt, was not properly recognized by the rest of the world. Many suffered a grievous blow to their self-esteem — a lost job, a divorce or a school failure — and decided to strike back in some showy way.”

The importance of mental health cannot be forgotten, and is often overlooked. Without proper medical care, including psychological treatment, many in our society can fall victim to those voices in their heads, whereby they are listening to their internal struggles instead of getting the proper help they need to treat their psychosis.

Brooks continued, “The crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external. These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones.”

Furthermore, it tends to lead me to believe that the actions we are trying to cure in our society are so much larger than we realize. Maybe we can once again take hold and curb such sprees by advancing our medicinal treatments and making it possible for everyone to be treated without fear of repercussions.

 “Warrior Gene”

Could it be that our genes are making it that some are predisposed to being enraged, and therefore more likely to be aggressive? The answer may surprise you.

In 2009, Brown University published a study about the “Warrior Gene,” whereby “subjects penalized opponents by administering varying amounts of hot sauce.” The findings of the study shows that “MAOA influences aggressive behavior, with potentially important implications for interpersonal aggression, violence, political decision-making, and crime.” Rose McDermott, Brown university professor and co-author of the research,  stated in an interview with ABC News, “In many, many studies [the warrior gene] appears implicated in behaviors that look like they’re related to physical aggression or some kind of conduct disorder.”

Rage is not something that only killers and criminal feel. It is an emotion also felt by the everyday stay at home dad, and business CEO, even by rock stars and gangbangers alike. Yet, the values of nature versus nurture on our understanding and in our behavior cannot be denied, yet those with the Warrior gene predisposition, do have less of a range of getting enraged.

According to the Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD, in her article titled, “Psychology for Writers,” “These people feel less empathy for others (if they feel any), and are more willing to harm others on a whim.”  As such, those with said gene could respond more aggressively to provocation.

Dehumanization

Through our prejudices, we can also dehumanize others, making them less valuable. Dehumanization can then determine who is worth living and that which is not, and for this to take root, one must give way to essentialist thinking, “the notion that the essence of a thing is distinct from its appearance.”

In his article, Dehumanization, Genocide, and the Psychology of Indifference, David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D. states, “This principle is crucial for understanding dehumanization, because it implies that someone can appear to be human appearance but lack a human essence. Think of them as counterfeit human beings.”

Since Sandy Hook, there has been one school shooting every week.  — Dailykos.com

 

By assisting the shells of humans a negative value and then assigning oneself a higher value in the hierarchy, it can lead people being regarded to as less, because they are of an outgroup.  “We tend to dehumanize those from outgroups (groups to which we do not belong). This process serves to distance ourselves psychologically from them, which subsequently leads to the disliking of that person and/or their group… But we also actively dehumanize others, as a deliberate strategy, in order to justify negative thoughts, feelings, and actions toward others,” says Gordon Hodson, Pd.D.

Desire to be known

Lastly, this is my honest take on it; people just want their fifteen minutes of fame. Think about it, when was the last time you remembered the victims of a crime more than the name of the actual killer?

I don’t know why I remember decades often based on the trials going on at the time. There was always a trial of the century and over the last twenty-years, there have been numerous trial s. The days of reporters sitting in the audience taking notes has been superseded by video cameras and live feeds of what is considered an inside look at justice, while witnesses testify to their recollections, expertise and attorneys perform for their clients. The court room has somehow lost some of its allure, while many behave as if the hearing is nothing more than a reality show shown on a news channel, what cannot be lost is that the outcome is quite real, and the verdicts rendered affect how we see justice, and also how we view each other.

From the O.J. Simpson trial for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman that happened twenty-years ago up until the Jodi Arias trial for the murder trial of Travis Alexander, we’ve seen the media’s engagement and obsession for every statement, and piece of evidence to sensationalize the criminal justice system, and although we’d like for reality to be as simply packed away in a bowed box, like an episode of Criminal Minds, that is not how reality works.

It seems that whenever a new case appears, so does the sensationalism. I’ve often wondered if it is because of the desire for fifteen minutes of fame, if more people are lured to the dark side. With the promises of made-for-TV movies, talk show appearances, book tours – you can have it all from the comfort of your jail cell.

When you have nothing to lose, it is easy to be pushed to that edge (and this is not to include those that are mentally ill). All it takes is for the wrong ingredients to mix, and maybe, just maybe if we’d stop applauding real life killers, maybe we’d see less of a rising trend of those that seek to solve their problems by taking out so many people with them.

Forget the Causes, how do we fix this mess?

I’m not sure if new or tougher gun laws will solve the issues (you see how the war on drugs worked – drugs are still illegal and people can still procure them), nor by limiting the amount of ammo one can have. Nor do I believe that open carrying is the solution to stopping the madness of psychosis we have within.

Instead, maybe what we really need to get back to is the interpersonal relationships. There used to be a time when community was found more than just online, in forums, or on social media. We’ve become so engaged with technology, that we’ve become disengaged from one another.

David Brooks also provides a way for us to stop the spree killers – relationships. “The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships.” We are not meant to exist as an island and through having meaningful relationships, we possible can cure other sprees from happening.

So, what’s your opinion and how do you think we can solve this problem of spree attacks? Please comment below!

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Update: When this blog post was originally posted, it was done prior to the debunking of the shooting statistics. CNN did their own investigation and was able to locate only 15 shootings since the Sandy Hook incident. Nevertheless, I still believe that 15 is still too many.

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For Further reading:
Psychology for Writers by by Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD
“Don’t Humanize My Demons!” by Gordon Hodson, Ph.D.
Brown University. “‘Warrior Gene’ Predicts Aggressive Behavior After Provocation.” ScienceDaily.
Spree killings: psychological, not sociological by  David Brooks
PUNISHMENT BY HOT SAUCE,“Warrior Gene” Predicts Aggressive Behavior After Provocation
Dehumanization, Genocide, and the Psychology of Indifference by David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D.

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headshot - Tina with backgroundTINA GLASNECK is an international selling crime fiction writer, panelists and presenter. She loves diving into research and sharing it with her readers. If you have something you’d like to ask her or a research point she might be interested in, contact her through her website at www.TinaGlasneck.com.

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11 thoughts on “Not One More: Why are spree killings exploding around us?

  1. One of the many causes is the lost of religion and spirituality in the public realm. Public schools can’t mention the word “God” or even “Christmas” and “Easter.” Schools and youth sports schedule events on Sunday mornings. Going to a house of worship on weekends is no longer the norm. Praying in public is forbidden. Network TV and even so-called PG movies have pushed the boundaries of foul language and good taste. Religious persons are ridiculed as “hateful,” “uptight,” “prudes” and “trolls.” Spiritual persons aren’t perfect but those who feel connected to a Higher Power and to a congregation/parish/community are less likely to commit crimes. Society has lost its moral core.

    • Thanks Sally for stopping by and commenting.

      Our need for community and a place to belong definitely help to curb violent tendencies. Usually, I try to stay away from the religion angle, but I wanted to address your comment (and this is all my opinion, of course). Religion has, historically, acted as its own catalyst for violence, and is known to help and hinder, when it comes to crimes. The rise of the post-Christian nation, agnosticism and atheism have really little do with the violence, we’ve seen. Most non-religious societies, or post religious societies, have fewer violent crimes. There are many serial killers and spree killers, who’ve regarded themselves as devout believers, and felt connected to God or a Higher Power. Religion is not the end all solution (and all religions do not align as to what the official moral code should be), because it also gives us reasons to categorize others, based on our beliefs, and thereby group them according to how our scriptures regard them, which in itself can cause strife (his Holy Scripture says one thing and her’s says another). That being said, I believe that it is through making those community connections that has previously helped us to function is a good solution; when parents were able to parent; children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and respect; and, when everyone had a voice. Columbine may have opened up the latest episode of Pandora’s Box, but spree killings have existed for a longer period of time.

      • Sorry I posted a comment. I didn’t intend for someone to post their anti-religious views. I thought I could express myself without criticism but I was wrong.

      • Sorry, you’re offended. That was not my goal. My goal was only to start a discussion, and your comment is a welcomed one. I’m not anti-religious, at all, and coming from a theological and conservative background, I do recognize religion as having its own value.

  2. Hi Tina, Thank you for the timely and thought-provoking post. Having taught adolescents for 31 years, I can recall several young men who desperately needed to connect with caring and concerned adults. At my school, we were blessed to have a young male social worker who could sit down and chat with these troubled young people. I agree with David Brooks–the solution is relationships.
    Joanne

    • Thanks Joanne for stopping by.

      Over the years, I’ve learned that relationships have the power to change paradigms. We need relationships to grow, and they often act as that outside force to keep us human. When we stop interacting, unfortunately, and having meaningful conversations, things get bottled up until they often explode. We need each other. Relationships can truly change the world!

  3. Tina, we could go round and round on this, but I enjoyed reading what you found. The only thing I would like to point out is that the “Since Sandy Hook, there has been one school shooting every week” talking points have been debunked by several news reporting agencies including CNN.
    What people fail to see is that since federal gun laws have been relaxed, the actual amount of gun crime has decreased. In a recent pew poll, it showed that only 12% of the public knew that violent gun crimes and gun homicide rates had dropped significantly from their peek in 1993. While I agree that it would be nice to live in a world with a 0% rate, the news media continues to make huge stories out of these events, but if you look at the numbers, they are lessening. (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware/).

    • Hi James, and thanks for commenting.

      My concern is not so much the advocating of stricter gun law, or to discuss gun laws in general, but to look at the cause behind the violence. Accessibility will always be an issue (those who wish to commit crimes, will always find a way to do so). Recently, one actually used a knife instead of a gun. Yet, I do believe that the perpetuation of the media to give each of these incidents a voice is troublesome, as well as the lack of mental health care for many involved. Although many wish to point at the gun lobbying, I think there are bigger problems that we have to deal with; it’s just easier to say it’s the inanimate object versus the one pulling the trigger.

      • I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think a lot of our problems can be traced back to the “everyone is a winner” mentality, as well as the “time out” crowd. I feel that the Children of recent generations are very disconnected and don’t know seem to know how to deal with failure correctly. Time and time again we have people that run into a “hardship” and don’t know how to deal with it, or we have a child that has never been disciplined that seem to just snap. How many times do we hear, “they were such good kids” or “they would never hurt anyone” before they go and shoot up a bunch of others. While I’m not going to advocate we need beat our children, or call them failures, I will say that when I was growing up a had a healthy respect for my elders and the rule of law, and I was taught if I wanted the ribbon, or trophy I had to work harder than everyone else.

  4. I think we should stop reporting them. Obviously, each incident is different and come about for their own reasons, but this last incident, where the boy made a video manifesto, was clearly a cry for attention. Let’s stop giving it to them. I don’t need to know about that incident. I don’t live in that area. If anyone I know was harmed, I would have found out about it. Instead, I was subjected to weeks of coverage about the incident. And to any latent mass shooter, they’re seeing that they, too, can be the subject of news coverage.

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