I’ve reviewed over 400 incidents that loosely meet the criteria of what most people consider an Active Shooter. I’ve presented or taught on the topic for over thirteen years. One of the most frequent questions I get is “Why do they do it?” The simple answer is they’re mentally ill. This will offend many of the families of the mass killers…so be offended. What kind of person (in their right mind) wakes up one morning and goes about preparing to kill 25 total strangers? I am not inferring the decision was made that morning. None of them “snap” and go into a violent rage. No, almost all of them prepared for some time for what they did.
In 2014 I broke down my database, reviewing the incidents from 2010-2014, and asked “What was the triggering event?” I was able to reduce the “triggers” to five categories, domestic dispute, disgruntled employee, angry student, terrorist and emotionally disturbed person. While these were broad categories, it was interesting to see what the catalyst was.
Emotionally Disturbed Persons 52%
Domestic Dispute 23%
Disgruntled Employee 18%
Angry Student 6%
The EDP category, Emotionally Disturbed Persons, is the catch all category. In theory, every one of the shooters might easily be tossed into this category. That said, in those instances where another trigger could be identified, it prevented the incident from going into the EDP category. Is “why they do it” an important question? From a response perspective “no”. Regardless of why they are shooting, the police must respond as fast as possible. From a prevention perspective “yes” it is the most important question.
In Nicoletti’s “When Violence Goes to Work” he writes about a “perceived injustice”. In every mass shooting the shooter possesses this “perceived injustice”. In some way, his boss, teacher, company or society has done him wrong. He has tried, without success, to resolve his issues through the normal process and finally, the shooter believes that going out “in a blaze of glory” is the only option left. He rests comfortably knowing that the media will respond with camera’s rolling and his name/face will lead all other stories from coast to coast. The attention of the media is only garnered when the result is a high body count. Events that fit the Active Shooter criteria occur every week. These incidents never receive mass media attention unless the body county goes about four or five. In essence, notoriety is also at the heart of the “why?”