Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC
School shooters are not like other students in schools. One or two incidents don’t simply “push them over the edge.” There are many complex factors that are at play. Below I will attempt to clarify some of these issues.
In his book on the subject, Peter Langman, PhD, classified school shooters in to three categories: psychotics, psychopaths, and trauma-based shooters. The psychotic shooters suffered from hallucinations such hearing demons command them to shoot others. Many of these shooters were very paranoid and saw others as distrustful and out to get them. The psychopaths are what therapists label “antisocial personality disorder.” These are the individuals who lack any empathy. They don’t have much emotion toward others. What they do feel is resentment. This intense anger pushes out any possibility for empathy. When we are angry, we think we are right and others are wrong. They store up every small sleight to their character. They make lists of those students and teachers whom they believed have been mean to them. Finally, the traumatized shooters are those students who have been abused in some way. This abuse has lead to feelings of chronic distrust. They believe, due to the abuse they suffered, that they are unsafe. They need to act preemptively to avoid any future abuse or harm. Even though some shooters were traumatized, by no means is this descriptive of the majority.
A common factor with school shooters is the psychological social isolation felt. This served as a social impairment and lead to them feeling and appearing awkward. Many other students described some of the shooters as “odd” or “strange.” They felt alienated, and like outsiders in their own peer group. This may explain why a vast majority of school shootings occur in rural areas. With fewer people comes less like-minded students the potential shooter could relate to. These shooters became very sensitive to rejection and saw it in places it didn’t even exist. They had envy toward those with a difference in social status.. They also envied the system they believed lead to the social status difference. Many schools shooters played sports, had girlfriends, and were involved in clubs. What is important is they believed they were isolated.
School shooters suffer from much higher rates of depression and suicidal ideations. They do not have healthy coping skills to deal with some of the issues mentioned above and therefore are at higher risks for self-injurious behaviors as well as suicidal attempts. They tend to lack resiliency and routinely have superficial support systems.
Many school shooters reported feelings associated with disappointment and being unloved. This leads to one of the most common factors with recent school shooters: the absence of biological fathers. The lack of biological fathers is common in a wide range of behavioral problems with males of any age. Fathers who were involved with school shooters tended to have a criminal past more often than the general population.
To conclude, a couple of myths should be addressed. While some were harassed or teased, the majority of school shooters were not bullied. In fact, school shooters were often times the bullies. They were generally referred to as “misfits. ” Secondly, video games do not cause school shootings. While some shooters played video games, there has been no meaningful relationship between school shooters who play games when compared to the general population who play video games.
There is still a lot of mystery around “school shooters.” Much of this mystery is due to misinformation from media outlets. However, much is in fact known. With the proper knowledge and education, potential school shooters can be properly evaluated.