A Federal Bureau of Investigation report released this week on active shooting incidents, such as the one at Santa Fe High School last month, had more than a few interesting points.
“With so many attacks occurring, it can become easy to believe that nothing can stop an active shooter determined to commit violence. ‘The offender just snapped’ and ‘There’s no way that anyone could have seen this coming’ are common reactions that can fuel a collective sense of a ‘new normal,’ one punctuated by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”
Among the findings of the report:
• Mental illness was not the main factor in mass shootings. According to the report, several physical, psychological or social forces — stressors — were found in the 63 cases the Behavioral Analysis Unit studied. Only 25 percent of the cases involved mental illness. Of those diagnosed, only three had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
• Active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors (an average of 3.6 separate stressors) in the year before they attacked. Some of those stressors include bullying, poor grades, marital conflict, financial hardship, confrontations in the workplace and the like.
• Active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attack, with 77 percent of the subjects spending a week or longer planning and 46 percent spending a week or longer actually preparing (procuring the means) for the attack.
• A majority of active shooters obtained their firearms legally, with only small percentages obtaining a firearm illegally.
• For active shooters under age 18, school peers and teachers were more likely to observe concerning behaviors than family members. For active shooters 18 years old and over, spouses/domestic partners were the most likely to observe concerning behaviors.
These are all interesting facts that are sure to add fuel to the discussion about tighter background checks on firearm purchases, mental health, ways to make schools safer and other similar issues.
We have noted in earlier editorials that mass shootings are becoming the new norm in the minds of many students and parents but that solving the problem will be a complex issue. The FBI report seems to bear that out.
What the report also did, though, was to focus on examining “specific behaviors that may precede an attack and which might be useful in identifying, assessing and managing those who may be on a pathway to deadly violence.”
Those behaviors include a mental health disorder, interpersonal interactions, quality of the active shooter’s thinking or communication, recklessness, violent media usage, changes in hygiene and weight, impulsivity, firearm behavior and physical aggression. But, the report noted, overall the shooter exhibited nearly five of the behaviors — not just one. In each of the cases studied, at least one person noticed several of those behaviors but failed to report it.
“For the very reason they are the people most likely to take note of concerning behaviors, they are also people who may feel constrained from acting on these concerns because of loyalty, disbelief, and/or fear of the consequences,” the report noted.
Maybe that’s the first step we all can take — observe and report.
• Dave Mathews