School Shootings – Can Potential Shooter Profiles be Identified?

In light of the recent shootings, in Newtown, Connecticut. New debates have been sparked on the idea of gun control and identification of potentially unstable individuals who could commit such crimes.

An article on Science Daily website, School Shootings: What We Know and What We Can Do, highlighted some recent research studying past events and tragedies to accumulate a profile of potential shooters and how these individuals can be identified ahead of time. The article uses research by Dr. Daniel J. Flannery on explaining how shooters demonstrate similar features such as depression, low self-esteem, narcissism and a fascination with death. However these key aspects and similarities across shootings are not strong enough to produce conclusive profiles which could allow for future prevention of such tragedies.

Other research has produced similar findings, Leary, Kowalski, Smith and Philips (2003) analysed multiple shootings between 1995 to 2001. They found that depression, low self-esteem and narcissism were all present in the individuals involved in the shootings. However they all also shared one more common attribute and that was social rejection. Social rejection alone cannot fully explain these acts of violence as most people navigate through life and at some stage are exposed to social rejection. However this social rejection coupled with psychological problems or a fascination with death may lead to acts of violence occurring.

Unfortunately research in this area is inconclusive and therefore specific attributes and characteristics have not been idenitifed to put in place preventative measures to reduce the chances of such tragedies occuring again.

– Stefano

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7 Responses to School Shootings – Can Potential Shooter Profiles be Identified?

  1. Tony says:

    This is fascinating stuff. I see that Leary et al. note that “most of the perpetrators displayed at least one of the other three risk factors (psychological problems, interest in guns or explosives, or fascination with death).” It’s not clear that these criteria are PREDICTIVE, however, since most people displaying those factors do not commit mass shootings.

    The same problem occurs with terrorist attacks: there are known risk factors, but most people displaying those factors do not commit acts of terrorism.

    There may be a need here for a more sophisticated model, with defined stages, in the same way that talking about suicide is a stage towards committing suicide.

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