By Dr David Laing Dawson
Several factors or conditions are needed to produce a mass killing. Examining them may inform prevention.
The first is simple maleness. The very instinct that causes boys to skip a stone on the pond, or push a toy car into a pile of blocks is behind the shooting of a gun. Effectance Behaviour. The impulse to cause an effect.
But this impulse or instinct can have very positive effects. So what makes a young man express this instinct in such an evil manner?
Social isolation: the absence of many adolescent years of successful socialization with nuance and inclusivity.
Failure: Failure to achieve meaningful relationships, memberships, and meaningful roles and activities.
Autistic Spectrum: the rigid, moralistic, “black and white” thinking of autism makes the autistic boy vulnerable to screeds, to simplistic amoral solutions and explanations.
The Internet: this now provides the vulnerable young, isolated male with a plethora of anti-social philosophies and calls to action, as well as heroes to emulate, and virtual friends to please.
Trigger or evolving mental illness: radical ideas and obsessions can evolve into delusions, including that of a suicide mission.
Sanction: A voice of authority giving a direct or indirect call to action, coupled with a dehumanizing message, e.g. cockroaches, vermin.
Arms: Readily available guns, especially automatic weapons with high magazine capacity.
As with all social and health problems some of these conditions are very difficult to detect and change. Others require improving that which exists: inclusive excellent public schools for example, and programs that ensure every teen transition to meaningful adulthood. And some of these conditions speak loudly for obvious and straightforward remedy.