When a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas occurs, we want to know why. Our human nature compels us to look for motives, for explanations. Researcher Katherine S. Newman, author of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, has some key insight about mass shooters. We’ll also take a quick look at what Stephen Paddock’s family can tell us, and another recent mass shooting (page 5).
What motivates mass shooters?
“Having spent two years studying rampage shooters in American middle and high schools, I saw the same pattern of ‘moral archaeology’ unfold,” she told The Independent. “The families of the shooters were looked upon as the proximate agents of the shooters’ acts, not because they pulled the actual trigger, but because commentators assumed they might have been pulling emotional triggers for years in advance.”
Newman said mass shooters often give off few social cues for their loved ones to notice. Young shooters conceal their dark impulses to avoid labels like “sicko” or “freak.” “These young shooters were masters of concealment, capable of planning their mayhem for months in advance without evoking suspicions,” she said.
For older ones, “they give off even fewer clues to the people around them. Not their families, not their friends,” the expert noted. She said signs like a gruff demeanor, keeping to themselves, or even outbursts don’t necessarily point to their violent potential. “These signals are faint and rarely lead to psychiatric treatment or a police file,” Newman explained.
In retrospect, shooters sometimes display traits that predict their behavior. Sometimes, their family backgrounds may have set them off at an early age. Las Vegas shooter Paddock seems like one such case.
Next: Paddock’s father was not exactly a role model.