Issues & Insights

When It Comes To School Shootings, It’s Time To Go Past The False Dichotomy

A few days ago, an individual in Uvalde, Texas, went to an elementary school and killed 19 little children and two teachers. This was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have recently taken place.

Looking at the pictures of the innocent victims evokes a sickening feeling. Aside from sadness, I am also experiencing frustration from a professional standpoint. Let me explain.

Human beings are herd animals. This may sound offensive, but it is a fact. Look at the pictures of people in NYC navigating the sidewalks, or the cars in the freeways of LA. Not only do we physically group together but we conform to the values and behaviors of others within the human herd, often without being conscious of doing so. Well publicized suicides often results in copycat suicides. The same is true for copycat crimes.

Incidentally, the Uvalde shootings have resulted in copycat crimes.

Decades ago, I was interested in the media’s effect on persons’ behaviors. I had already noticed how violence in the media sparked violence. Later, I carried out research on imitative behavior by people in regards to fads. In examining the development of fads, I found that there was a recurrent pattern in their development. In other words, their manifestation (that is, the behaviors of people participating in a fad) exhibited a pattern over time. Towards the end of the published study, I pointed out that socio-political incidents such as the serial airplane hijackings of the time appeared to have the same characteristics. Once my research was published, I braced myself for an avalanche of inquiries.

There was zero interest in the study (which contrasted to my other, frankly boring, research topics).

Personal matters led me to abandon further research, even though I subsequently noticed that my previous observations were valid, as with the Tylenol poison scare. When the Columbine shootings occurred much later, I again did some research which was published (however, it was prematurely done: since no further shootings had taken place, I concentrated on fake bomb threats; since the date of that paper’s publication, however, school shootings have occurred, the shooter often evoking the name of Columbine, a fact which is predicted by my theory). The motivation for renewing research on the subject was irritation at the long line of individuals lining up one by one to explain why the Columbine shooting took place, blaming video games, bullying, the parents, Adolf Hitler, gun ownership, with the braindead journalists not questioning their assertions or asking for facts to back up their claims.

At the time, the FBI was tasked with studying the problem and coming up with an answer. Their final report, “Threat Assessment in Schools: A guide to managing threatening situations and to creating safe school climates,” was a classic example of bureaucracy: pages and pages which said absolutely nothing. I had tried contacting the FBI several times to urge the FBI to carry out a formal psychological assessment of captured mass shooters, using available excellent psychological tests which have proven their validity over many decades and seeing if there was a recurring clue to their personalities, of which I was certain. But the FBI bureaucracy ignored me. Since then, there have been several school shootings with tragic loss of life.

I wish someone in authority would do so. These psychological tests could be administered to those students that exhibit similar disturbing behaviors (“red flags”) to those of past shooters, which would give a heads up to school authorities. This is something that has also been suggested by another researcher studying copycat crimes since Other off the cuff suggestions have proven to be useless.

Aside from grief and anger, the response to the Uvalde massacre has been the usual. As a rule, conservatives utter their idiotic “thoughts and prayers” which disgust everyone, while liberals stop their war against children through abortion and transgender transitioning to demand the abolition of firearms in order to safeguard children.

It is time that we carry out something practical and stop being bogged down in the same old false dichotomy.

Armando Simón is a retired research psychologist and author of A Cuban from Kansas, The U, The Cult of Suicide, and When Evolution Stops.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of this piece. We originally posted a draft of the article instead of the final version sent by the author. We apologize for the error.

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  • Good advice. May I suggest that we also focus on turning our culture around for the herd. A return to law and order when there is no bail for a person using a gun in a crime could be a good start.

    • No bail is good start. For most mass shooters, the promise of no bail won’t work because they don’t expect to survive. As tragic as mass killings are, it’s really a singular suicide by cop with the media promise their names will be part of history.

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