December 10, 2022
Ten years after Sandy Hook – and only a few months after Uvalde – people continue to wonder what motivates these school shooters and what can be done to stop the next massacre.
Living Institute Emeritus Chief Psychiatrist Hank Schwartz, MD, tried to get inside the minds of these killers for the better part of a decade, meticulously combing through public records and every fact he could get his hands on.
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Sandy Hook Anniversary
As Sandy Hook’s birthday approaches on Dec. 14, Schwartz compiled his findings in a presentation titled “The Mind of the Mass School Shooter: ‘By the Power of My AR You Will Know Who I Am.'” Schwartz , who served on the Governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Board and was part of the Children’s Advocate Inquiry and is generally considered one of the foremost experts on the psychology behind the mass shootings, gives his presentation through the country, from the Grand Rounds at the University of Texas, Austin, School of Medicine to the Hartford Hospital Annual business meeting.
In the minds of shooters
Of course, everyone wants to know why. And Schwartz, who has spent hundreds of hours reading, writing and talking about Sandy Hook and other school shootings, is also good to ask. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but he’s learned a lot since Adam Lanza’s deadly attack on Sandy Hook School in Newtown killed 26 elementary school students and teachers. “I spent years trying to figure out what happened at Sandy Hook and in particular, looking inside the minds of this shooter and others, trying to figure out the common denominators between them,” says Schwartz. “Sandy Hook wasn’t the first mass school shooting, but it was the first of the horrific school shootings to capture and hold our national attention, at least since Columbine… now it (Uvalde) has happened again, 10 years later.”
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Access to weapons
Schwartz is a firm believer that access to guns is the main reason America is riddled with mass shootings – he cites statistics that show the looser the gun regulations, the higher the number of murders. and firearm suicides is high. “We know we wouldn’t even be having this discussion without America’s unparalleled access to weapons of war,” Schwartz said. But there has been little progress on this issue, so it also focuses on other factors, including shooter profiles.
Profile of a Mass Shooter
Here are some common shooter characteristics to look for, beyond the obvious that the shooters tend to be isolated young white males who spend a lot of time online or playing video games:
- Lack of social connection
- Low tolerance
- Poor coping skills
- Lack of resilience
- Failed romantic relationships
- Signs of depression
- Lack of empathy
- Mental illness
“But for every individual who fits those profiles who could actually shoot, there are probably thousands who wouldn’t,” Schwartz notes. So, outside of continuing to pursue gun legislation and improving diagnosed mental illnesses, what can we do?
What can be done?
- Focus on social and emotional learning programs in schools – this can help build empathy and social connections.
- Improve access to mental health at all levels of society and link these programs and services to schools.
- Take social media posts and other signals seriously.
- if you see something, say something. Too often people are aware of bizarre behavior but don’t report it.
- More neuroscience research on areas of the brain that are essential for prosocial behavior and developing treatments that stimulate these areas of the brain, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is used at the IOL to treat depression.
The clock is turning. “Everything is compounded by the contagion effect,” says Schwartz. “Each kill further disinhibits potential shooters and increases the likelihood of the next shootout.”