What are the Motives for These Mass Shootings?

A senseless tragedy

The media has been dominated by the shocking news of a gunman in who presented himself before the theater of a midnight premier of the Batman movie, “Dark Knight Rises” and proceeded to throw canisters of gas and opened fire onto the audience.  As of the writing of this blog, this mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado has left about 12 people dead and more than 70 injured, with fatalities growing. Days later, the Nation continues to await word of the missing and those in critical condition. Even presidential candidates on the campaign trail took a pause from their activities. The audience at the theater consisted of all ages. One victim died on his birthday. Another had just narrowly escaped another mass shooting Toronto, Canada.

The Batman movies are known to contain acts of community violence. So when the gunman first appeared, many thought that it was a stunt or special effects for the premier. It was not until people began to fall over, that hysteria set in. Those who tried to exit the theater were the first targets.

The frequency of such killings

The site of the tragedy is just 15 miles from Columbine High School, the scene of a 1999 mass shooting where two gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher, before killing themselves.  A spokesman for Marcus Theaters stated that” a random act of violence has never occurred in a U.S. movie theater in its 110-year history” (ABCNews.com).  According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the United States has been averaging 20 mass shootings each year, escalating since 2005.  However, it was during the 1980s, that the term “going postal’ became popular as some separate incidences of disgruntled postal workers began picking each other off.  

As a resident of Chicago, every day there is news of local shootings resulting in several dead and even more injured. Good weather often portends a gun battle somewhere in the city. As of a July 9, 2012 CBSNews story, there has been 275 homicides in Chicago since the beginning of the year. Most of them have been attributed to gang violence.  Interestingly the city governor reported that the crime rate has dropped to an overall 10 percent, but at the same time homicides have gone up 30 percent this year.

What is the motive of a mass murderer?

The first question that comes to everyone’s mind is why?  As mentioned above, some city homicides are due to gang violence and often are tied to drug activities. But what about a lone gunman who takes an arsenal into a crowded movie theater?  Reports state that he was “dressed like an assassin ready to go to war” (Fox News). It seems as a senseless and heartless act. Skynews suggests that it is futile to try to determine the motive of such a killing.  Stephen Albrecht, head of the San Diego Association of Threat Assessment Professionals told Skynews in a telephone interview yesterday that people “tend to rationalise the irrational behaviour of the people around us and thus skip over signs of an individual on the verge of violence.”  Basically even if someone is a suspect, they are not sure what to do about it. 

A person who acts strange or even buys a gun is not usually a mass murderer. A person cannot be locked up just because they are different or eccentric. Even most who say they “feel like hurting someone” actually never do commit acts of violence.  In my past work in a clinic, we evaluated for homicidal and suicidal ideation. This was largely based on the client’s own affirmation, those of significant others, and history. Then there are those who just plainly negate any such thoughts and have no history. The science of determining those who are a danger to themselves and others is not so exact due to the fickle nature of human beings. In terms of suicide, a person must say that they want to harm themselves, have a plan, and also have a feasible means of carrying it out.

While the examination of the factors and causes of a mass murder is really too broad to address in an amateur blog, some brief statements can be made. The nature of the killer, type of victim, and motives vary. There are killers who attack people they know and those who assail random strangers. Two main motives identified include revenge and the need for fame and/or attention (Wikipedia). The latter is the reason why many people fear copycat acts of violence after a major event. 

Also there is the question of whether the acts of an individual are really the symptoms of a sick society in general.  In the example of the recent Colorado theater shooting, one can question the coincidence of the type of movie premier selected by the killer which was one noted for grotesque violence.  Witnesses state that the killer dressed like the “Joker” of the Batman movie and was carrying out a scene similar to the Dark Knight. There also have been questions made as to why children and even infants were at a midnight showing of an PG13-rated movie in the first place.  Not to be misconstrued as judgment, but one wonders if these same parents also regularly take their children to religious services.

Reaction to mass murderer

Figuring out a cause of such a tragedy doesn’t take away the pain and shock. Interestingly this Sunday’s New Testament reading (Ephesians 2:13-18) states that Jesus is our Peace:

For He is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Many of the sentiments expressed by families of victims reflect their trust in God:

 “I hope that this evil act …doesn’t shake people’s faith in God,” Anita Busch a relative of a victim (AP Press).

“I have my Lord to lean on and I know He is going to get us through this,” Stacie McQuinn, stepmother of a missing victim (AP Press).

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