Dr. Andrew Smiler lists some of the factors that mass shooters have in common.
Another week, another mass killing. Or two, or three. Here in the US, we’ve had shootings in churches, movie theatres, at all types of schools (elementary, high school, colleges), and even military bases. Back in the 1980s, it was disgruntled employees in post offices and we called it “going postal.” As the President pointed out, mass shootings have become common and mundane.
Along the way, we’ve learned something about how to create this type of killer, just like we’ve learned something about how to create a rapist. To be clear, we’re not talking about killers like the Unabomber or even the DC parking lot shooters. We’re talking about people who kill their ex- and the kids (and themselves) or walk into a crowded place and open fire.
To create this kind of killer, you’ll need to teach your killer-to-be a series of lessons, and you’ll need these lessons be reinforced by other adults: parents, teachers, coaches, community leaders, etc. Here’s what you need to do.
Create a sense of entitlement
You’ll need to make sure your killer believes that the world is his oyster. So, emphasize that hard work is the most important thing and that the quality of the final product is ancillary. This will teach him that if he works hard enough, he can achieve his goals.
Teach him that all goals are a matter of effort. It doesn’t matter if that goal is getting an A on a test, making a friend, or making the team. He needs to believe that success and failure are based on his effort.
When he complains, or if he fails at something, tell him to pick himself up by his bootstraps and to stop being so weak. Teach him it’s important to “be his own man” and not rely on others; you need him to believe it’s all on him.
Then teach your killer-to-be that the effort-leads-to-rewards system works for big stuff, not just the day-to-day. This way, goals like finding and keeping a life partner and earning a promotion will be based on his effort…and nothing else. No one else’s perspective matters, even if that person is the “goal” he is working towards.
Here in the US, start with someone who’s White and male. People of color are repeatedly told–and many have experiences verifying–that the system is rigged against them and that their efforts are not as valued as the majority group. Girls and women are also learn that lesson. Most mass shooters in the US have been White and Male.
Do not teach your killer-to-be how the system was created, what the system’s goals are, or how the system has been adjusted over the years. It’s important to make sure your killer-to-be only has a superficial understanding of the system so he can see himself as a victim when things don’t work out.
Keep Him Angry
You’ll also need to teach him that anger is the only acceptable emotion. When he gets hurt, ask “what are you going to do about it?” instead of acknowledging that pain and sadness. Teach him to “tough it out” and “play through the pain.” Pain feeds anger and anger feeds action. Sadness doesn’t feed either anger or action.
Point out the people who look like they are “gaming the system” and moving ahead faster than others. Call them cheaters and repeatedly point to their group as rigging the system. It really doesn’t matter what group you pick – Blacks, Jews, Women, Muslims, Illegal Immigrants, whatever. The important thing is that he resents one or more of these groups. Resentment feeds anger.
Teach him that revenge is a good way to deal with anger, that vengeful acts have no scale, and that all hurts and pain are equivalent. This way, he’ll believe that overwhelming force is an acceptable response to any hurt he experiences. If his own list of accomplishments is short or non-existent, he may even come to believe that his own pain and his own life can be sacrificed in the name of revenge.
Now that the stage has been set, we’ll need a trigger. Choose something that he has worked long and hard for. For that kind of effort, it’ll need to be something big, like a partner or job. Or maybe owning a house. To increase the odds that he’ll become a mass murderer, it’s better if the road to this goal has been bumpy and he has overcome those additional challenges by putting in even more effort.
Tell him he’s simply not good enough to have what he wants. That despite all of his effort, he just doesn’t measure up. If your killer-to-be is male, pour fuel on the fire by telling him that he has failed as a man. Let him connect his failure to his favorite target group…or push him down that road by telling him that a member of that group is keeping him from getting what he wants.
We still don’t know why some guys act and others collapse in on themselves, so there are no guarantees here. But if you’ve done everything just right, then there’s a chance he’ll pick up a weapon and “go out in a blaze of glory.”
And if you don’t want your kid–or any kid–to become that guy, don’t teach him these lessons.
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