WHY?

In the aftermath of any mass shooting, this is the first question asked.

"'What would make someone do this?' That's the primary question everyone asks, but I don't know why…As a former prosecutor, I know what to do with a criminal once they commit a crime, but I don't know why they do what they do," said Dr. Diana Clayton, the Rogers State University professor tasked with moderating a panel discussion on mass shooters Thursday morning in response to the recent Las Vegas shooting.

University students gathered to hear the perspectives of Margaurite Allen, criminal justice adjunct instructor, Lee Williams, communications assistant professor, Nikki Phillips, RSU Counseling Services Coordinator, and Gary Boergerman, RSU campus police chief.

Allen began by defining an active shooter— "It is defined by the FBI and other federal agencies as 'an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined populated area.'"

From there, Allen discussed who the shooters are, why they perform these acts and what can be done to prevent them.

"First, there are three myths around who an active/mass shooter is. One is that mental illness causes gun violence. Certainly mental illness has been linked to gun violence. When we look at statistics of people who have committed mass murders at schools or any public area, many times they do have a mental illness. To say that mental illness causes gun violence is incorrect," she said. "Another is that a psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun violence before it happens. But, just because someone is diagnosed with some sort of mental illness does not always mean they will commit a violent act. In fact, many people that have any type of mental health diagnosis are more likely to be victims of crimes. They have a stigma attached to them. They are seen as vulnerable and weak and are much more likely to be a victim of a crime than to perpetrate one."

A third myth, she said, "is that U.S mass shootings prove we should fear mentally ill loners."

"Attaching a stigma to someone that has a mental health issue or a mental illness is doing nothing but damaging them and us as a society," she told the students.

To examine why mass shooters do what they do one must look at psychological, sociological and biological factors.

In regards to the psychological factors Allen said, "To say that all mass shooters are mentally ill is absolutely wrong. Many of them have absolutely no break with reality. They know exactly what they are doing."

She said some sociological factors include:

•They are often the people that are bullied.

•They feel vulnerable and isolated.

• They experience ostracism

•And they have no prosocial support

"If society labels them as 'nut job' and 'psycho', they're not going to feel comfortable coming forward to ask for help. So they develop an extreme mistrust of others," she continued.

Another sociological factor, she said, is copycat crimes, or the contagion effect.

"If someone is feeling the desire to do something like this, and they turn on the TV like all of us have been doing for the last two weeks, they see all this media attention given to someone that just did what they've been thinking about doing, they commit a copycat crime," she said. "It's also called the contagion effect. It's the idea that what you're doing will spread like wildfire—like the Flu through a college class."

Biological factors include neurodevelopment disorders and head injury.

"So who in the world would do this? Survivors of child abuse. People that have experienced a lifetime of physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. They often have a grievance with another group," she said.

She said, "they are often loners with feelings of despair. They are also suspicious and hold grudges. They vfeel resentful and see others are rejecting and uncaring and this results in fantasies of violent revenge."

Access to firearms, she said, is another predicate.

Most mass murders occur with firearms, though there have been cases that utilize bombs, she explained.

"We are more likely to be shot and killed by a family member, a friend or a coworker. The idea that someone comes into a public area and knows no one and begins to short is extraordinarily rare," she said. "But our media gives us the impression that it happens every day or every week sometimes."

These attacks are meticulously planned, she said, and usually end with the perpetrator committing suicide or being killed by the police.

"So this means often they aren't alive for us to learn from. So we have to rely on documentation to know what was going on," she said.

She said they tend to be white males, in their early 20s to 30s.

"I quote Dr. Cox, a criminal justice professor in Boston. He said, 'The typical mass murderer is extraordinarily ordinary.' They are just an average person, not physically identifiable by a physical feature or anything else," she said.

She said media coverage plays a part in why mass murderers do what they do.

Allen said in looking at school shooters specifically, over half of them get their firearms from a relative or already own their own— "Interestingly enough, they're not getting them illegally."

She said they often leak their plans to their friends and often consider or attempt suicide.

What can we do?

"Reach out to people who separate themselves from society, the people who feel alone. And the media must do a better job and not use words like 'nut jobs' so loosely," she said.

Dr. Williams elaborated on media coverage of a tragedy and its impact on the public.

"We live in a world that has been called 'The Mean World Syndrome.' We perceive it to be much more dangerous out there than it actually is," Williams said. "The more news we watch, the more fearful we get."

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