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By Dr. Robert B. Young

There is much speculation about how to identify people at risk of committing violence, in order to preempt their possessing firearms. This ignores risks from violence done with, say, hands and knives, but it’s a worthy goal. However, it’s not one easily accomplished—and risks restricting the Second Amendment rights of too many people who don’t present any risk at all . . .

The stereotypical characteristics of a mass shooter is that they are almost always male and usually white (but whites and African-Americans appear in proportion to their population percentages), with many meeting criteria for a major mental illness (most significantly paranoid schizophrenia).

Yet this does not imply that being a white male with a major mental illness makes one likely to commit mass murder, or even become violent at all. Nor does being on psychiatric medication — taking prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressant medicines — reduces the risk of violent ideation and acts by mentally ill patients.

I’ve treated thousands of psychiatric problems in people of all descriptions over the past 30 years and none of them has gone on a rampage. My experience is not just anecdotal. It’s an example of the facts that the mentally ill account for only about 4% of violent crime (even though most mass killers are likely mentally ill), but are more than twice as likely to be victims of violence as the general population.

These demographic factors do not equal causation, and they do not define the entire set of risks that may lead to bad deeds being done. Substance abuse is a greater factor itself (34%) in violent behavior that mental illness and substance abuse along with serious mental illness (5%), and binge drinking itself, seem to increase the risks of violence. Cultural factors have become more prominent during the past 20 years, with radical ideologies based on ethnic identity, religion, and/or collective paranoia inspiring the most horrific attacks.

Interestingly, people of Asian heritage commit such crimes at a higher rate, and those of Latino heritage at a lower rate, than their proportions of the population. There was Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in 2007, Jiverly Wong in 2009 in Binghamton New York, but then there was also Ivan Lopez at Fort Hood in 2014. “Spree killers” don’t always make lists of mass murderers since they may carry on for a long time (such as John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, 2002 in the D.C. area). As to women, Jennifer San Marco, who “went postal” in Goleta, California in 2006 comes to mind, as well as Aileen Wuornos in Florida in 1989-90.

Of course, confining attention to shootings ignores other means of mass murder such as explosives (Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the Tsarnaevs in Boston, 2013), arson (95 dead in Our City of Angels School in Chicago, 1958, and the Esperanza forest fire in 2006 by Raymond Lee Oyler), and causing vehicular crashes (Juan Manuel Álvarez in Glendale, California in 2005), not to mention plane crashes (the 9/11 attacks, of course, but also others beginning with Francisco Paula Gonzalez in 1964).

So although mass murders (the murder of 4 or more persons during a single event, according to the FBI) make big headlines and doing so with guns excites the adrenaline of our gun-control comrades, addressing these is not all there is to keeping safe from “gun violence”. Most shootings occur between people who know each other, one on one, in large part during the commission of crimes, especially by gangs and associated with dealing and using illegal substances.

“Gun control” can’t prevent this, since firearms may have been obtained legally (without triggering background check blocks) or criminally (with no intervention possible). Straw purchases straddle that line. This sounds like a tautology, but it means that one way or another, people who want to kill with guns can and will kill. At the same time, other killing tools can’t effectively be monitored or controlled (knives, bats, gasoline, home-made explosives, etc.).

Unhappily, the current administration’s efforts to undercut the Second Amendment in any way possible have reached a new low. The President has directed that all federal departments apply guidance requiring consistent reporting of people with “subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease” to the National Instant Check System (NICS).

This has already led to depriving 177,000 veterans of their right to own firearms, and could next lead to as many as 4.2 million Social Security beneficiaries losing theirs. Congress is seeking to end that threat to veterans, as it considers the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. It may need to do more of the same to outlaw the widespread application of these criteria by agencies government-wide.

Psychiatrists, advocates for the disabled, civil libertarians and many others are united in opposing arbitrary deprivation of Constitutionally guaranteed rights based on the single criterion of being unable to manage one’s own finances. This is only one of several varieties of incompetence that may affect people. Other examples include incapacity to properly parent (leading to deprivation of parental rights), incompetence to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity, and incompetence to make rational health care decisions.

But none of these determines that any other exists, because each depends on a different set of intellectual, cognitive, and behavioral abilities. Only a court can determine legal incompetence in any sphere, advised by professional assessment of an individual, often by psychiatrists and others with such expertise. Placing such life-altering legal decisions in the hands of bureaucrats is a perverse aggrandizement of government.

There are plenty of concerns that should be reported to and used via the NICS to prevent certain individuals from possessing guns as far as possible. These include convictions of violent crimes, active illegal substance use or addiction, and adjudication by a court of the specific incapacity to safely use firearms, along with mental illnesses such as major depression and schizophrenia with active symptoms that heighten dangerousness. But these can be temporary conditions, so they should be temporary determinations with ready access to appeal and have the restrictions voided.

Remember Martin Niemöller’s warning that if the line is not drawn when first they came for the social undesirables, there will ultimately be no one left to speak for us when we become targets. Be aware, stay alert, and don’t hesitate to fight back. Defending our rights against bad laws, like defending our persons against assault, gives both the best chance for survival.


Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. 

This article originally appeared at and is reprinted here with permission.

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    • Its obviously that hair cut. Plus if theywere exposed to a confederate flag. Its most likely tge flag though

    • This is a high visibility, low percentage problem. The higher body count guarantees the news coverage but it’s a statistically rare event.
      And yes, you’re more likely to be harmed by a Postal worker than the other way around.

  1. Gnarly monster collage.

    Just kidding, I really wish people would stop glorifying these douchebags by posting their faces everywhere.

  2. ” it’s a worthy goal. However, it’s not one easily accomplished—and risks restricting the Second Amendment rights of too many people who don’t present any risk at all .”

    Plus it falls into the GREATER RISK of abdicating such things to a-holes (who can’t really fix things and) who are mainly just seeking further power.

    Just remember “We didn’t ask” and . . .

    “When forming interactive societies one maxim maintains the balance of individuals when commingled pairs form larger groups.
    That maxim is simply:

  3. Psychology needs to become more of a science and less of an art before any major advances will be made.

      • The doctor who wrote this is not a psychologist. He’s a psychiatrist. Psychiatry is a field of medicine and is based in science. It’s practitioners are all MDs. Their approach is far more scientific than psychology. In general, psychiatry is more likely to focus on physiological causes (like imbalanced brain chemicals) than social causes (like an abusive parent) than psychology.

        • Probably the same way I know Austria and Australia are completely different countries, even though I’ve never visited either one.

        • Well, psychiatry is actually not a science, though it wants to be. There is no clear understanding or consensus regarding exactly how neurotransmitters affect behavior, what constitutes “brain imbalances”, and how they can be corrected. The “low serotonin” theory of depression has been debunked. There have been many psychiatrists who have come public in stating their opposition to the widespread use of psychotropic drugs, because of a correlation they have seen between psych drug use and violence. Being an MD does not mean one is a scientist. For another take on the issue, check out this book, written by a psychiatrist – Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Murder by Peter Breggin, M.D.

      • Ya, like all head shrinkers, you talk about it like it’s math. But the only doctor providing immediate results is a Chiropractor (often treated like the fringe of the It’s still a: Wild A_ _ Guess,
        And,,, you’re all
        OUTCHA F-NG MINDS if you think were gonna just let you call ‘balls and strikes’ on who’s ‘crazy.’ FU. You want a meaning for your profession, you shouldn’t need to go begging.

        • “I don’t understand this, therefore it is scary and I don’t like it. The chiropractor is the only doctor producing results!”

          You probably wouldn’t have made it out of your childhood without vaccines and antibiotics. Please refrain from affording these to your offspring as they don’t come from chiropractors and you probably don’t understand them. You’ll save the species a lot of trouble that way.

    • Exactly. The fact of the matter is, human behavior is so complex, it will likely never be a true science. At least not until we can reliably model the entire human brain inside a computer, so as to be able to engage in repeatable, controllable experiments ethically. As it is, psychology is at best an art of looking for patterns, but even if you can usefully identify patterns, you can’t say with much certainty that any specific person will adhere to the pattern in a given situation. Every human brain is a sample group of one, making predicting individual behavior virtually impossible. Complicating this is the fact that every brain is constantly changing as it assimilates new experiences and information. Every one of us has probably done things that left us wondering afterward why we did them. If you can’t understand your own mind 100% of the time, how could you reasonably expect to fully understand someone else’s?

      • I make my living analyzing functional brain imaging. For psychiatrists (and neurologists). Its a growing field. Not perfect but not exactly art or a nascent science either.
        I see about 3,000 scans in an average year.
        I would caution against making uninformed and unsubstantiated statements. And against conflating psychology and medical neurobehavioral science.

        • I am a pathologist and I look at perhaps few thousand samples a year. You use our and experience. We are comparing in our heads and with the literature a specific scan or sample to a few hundred ones we can keep in memory and a bit more we have time to compare to literature to stage and predict outcome for various interventions. Looking at brain scanss invovles dealing with a lot more information and a lot less comparative ability by a human.

          . Both our fields will be completely changed by computers and newer imaging

          If I look at a cell from a lesion I am diagnosing and staging it in a very small comparative sample in my memory. A computer will be able to near instantly compare it to hundred of millions of cancer samples, million s of sample from the exact same tissue type, and eventually millions with various treatments and able to compare and predict outcomes. Eventually this will also be integrated with genetic data.

          Brain science, both in structural scans and comparisons as well as chemical variables and stimulus response will be changed even more, and where we are now will look medieval in 20 years or less. The amount of data and variables are immense and exactly the type of things computers will utterly change. Of course more and more brain scans are looked at today with computers, but the abilty scan and compare thousands of samples of the same brain and compare them th hundred of millions of other scans will be transformative to the field.

        • Yo, 2J’s,
          Read your post (i know, TTAG has been hacked lately and what you type ain’t really what ‘posts’ but) if it doesn’t hurt your head reading it then ..,your crazy.

    • I think we should just have Spanish Inquisitions and Salem Witch hunts for determining who the next mass spree killer will be.

  4. Why do “Wayne”, “Lee”, and “Roy” often seem to me attached to assasins, mass murderers and serial killers? The press always seems to use the fullest name of any offender, probably so as to lessen the stigma of the shorter name with the millions who share that name.

    John Wayne Gacy
    Lee Harvey Oswald
    John Lee Malvo
    Roy Burns, et al

    • Simple popularity of those names, the fact that they are common. For example, the name John is featured twice in your list, and it’s quite probably there are very many killers named John, simply because it’s a common name.

    • I’ll bet those names don’t occur any more among killers than they do among the general population. Two factors may be at work: “Lee” and “Wayne” are pretty popular middle names, so they’re going to pop up more often, and people like to perpetuate the meme that these names are more common among killers, so whenever a killer comes along with the middle name “Wayne”, the press is guaranteed to use it, so as to emphasize the connection. Do you have any idea what Adam Lanza’s middle name is? I never heard it mentioned once in all the coverage, but you can bet your life that if it was “Wayne”, you’d never hear his name mentioned without the “Wayne” in there.

      I don’t think the press uses middle names to spare people any stigma; they seem to choose whether to use or not use the middle name based on which sounds better.

  5. In all these cases, that I’m aware of, the person that did the atrocity gave off multiple warning signs that were ignored by professionals and family members.

    How do you respect the rights of the maladjusted loner with mental health issues and protect society?

    I’m all for we all pack a gun. That way the next one of these guys can maybe be stopped before he runs up a body count.

      • Abortion is like Godwin’s Nazi reference, but for social conservatives. The more you talk to socons, the more likely the chance they’ll bring up abortion, despite it having f-all to do with the topic at hand.

        • Grinder, it’s ALL related. If the life of a child that exists by a woman’s invitation isn’t worth anything, then she’ll never convince me that she values mine [TERMS, J.M.Thomas R., 2012]. If we can’t share values on the most basic things, we can’t afford to turn our backs to each other.

    • I’ll agree with that. I think bad parenting all around is the main causation for mass/spree killers.(I saw parenthood, and it clicked for this comment) I would say that for all killers, though I don’t have the actual stats to back up my statement. Kids being mean to other kids for so long, eventually people snap. Not sure it’s that difficult to understand.

      • Define “kids”. Are we talking about 5 year olds who aren’t exactly fully aware of the implications of their actions, or 16-18 year olds who are more aware, but have the capacity for malice?

        • I’m talking about the kid who is just harassed constantly throughout their adolescence. With no parenting structure to show them that they are loved, cared for, “normal”, etc, is what I think starts the process of the downward spiral. I would say grade school kids are just being kids, they don’t know that their words and actions are that detrimental. The high schoolers are the ones who should be taught that once in a while, you have to lay off of people. I’m not saying every kid needs to be swaddled and hugged every time they get their feelings hurt, but I’ve read stories and heard stories first hand of how cruel people can be. Respect, that’s all I’m saying.

  6. I think it’s not even worth trying to keep guns (and other weapons) out of the hands of those who *should not* have them because it simply can’t be done unless you maintain complete control of them, as in a prison. And in prisons weapons exist.

    No, as JWM says, we MUST be allowed to be armed anywhere and everywhere, so that we can deal with these assholes when they reveal themselves. This will usually take care of them in a more permanent fashion, which is much safer than juggling them in and out prison, rehab, halfway houses, etc all the while they create new victims.

    Our ruling class doesn’t like the idea, of course. I truly believe that at some point we need to insist on it.

  7. If the media would stop showing their faces and glamorizing these sick psychopaths with wall to wall coverage (to drive ratings and push their own agenda) – giving them exactly what they want – perhaps we’d see a much greater decrease in these copy-cat spree killings. But instead, they blame the gun. And they basically ignore bombs and knives and everything else. Didn’t hear much outcry for knife control when that LA assh@le carved a bunch a people up and ran others over. Hell, that didn’t even happen as far as they are concerned, only the people that got shot matter. What a joke. People see through the media’s childish BS, that’s why the numbers are going the other way.

    • I recall reading news headlines and stories which referred to every one of the persons killed, including those stabbed, as “victims of the mass shooting” or similar language. Apparently being stabbed is actually a form of being shot, if someone else is then shot by the same perp.

  8. Why is TTAG giving these scrotes the publicity they crave. Be like most sensible organization and don’t use these terds names or pictures.

  9. 2 out of 3 share an aspergers diagnosis. And “storm” sure looks like it is cut from the same disgusting cloth. Clearly all 3 had deep pathological problems. Can we identify mass murderers? Beats me-why isn’t every crazy boy doing this? Maybe good parents have a lot to do with it…

    • The real [safer] stance to take then, should be, to assume anyone you ever encounter is ‘capable of it’ that many (who knows how many) are only slightly removed from the impetus to act on it day to day, moment to moment. Therefore demand to know ypur fellow man’s intent by action and inaction for and against, that demonstrates lasting mores, norms, and values. Either way…
      NO ONE can protect you from your fellow man in the immediate, except you, and any “agreement” that portends or claims any alternative, is only bulwarked by the former, don’t suffer the fools pressing disarmament because it’s a fools game in the long term, and been shown to likely be for nefarious purposes in the short. History has so spoken. [TERMS, J.M. thomas R., 2012]

  10. Happy Land Dance Club was definitely arson, and killed 87. The school fire mentioned was arguably arson.

  11. Until we can scientifically measure human behavior, there’s no real way we can keep tabs on potential mass-murderers without having a government-run apparatus become incredibly intrusive to the private lives of everyone, like NSA on steroids.
    Right now, the best way to stop mass killers is with a fatal dose of lead poisoning. This means getting rid of these useless “gun-free zones” and removing restrictions to CCW for more people.

  12. Why no pictures of Colin Ferguson, Omar Thornton, Maurice Clemmons, Nathan Dunlap, Muhammad and Malvo, Chris Dorner and Aaron Alexis?

    Never mind. I already know. We wouldn’t want to detract from the narrative, would we. Well? Would we?

  13. Looks like three C/S’s and bullies to me. Bring up the firing squad, no hearing, proof is proof. No tax payer money for these shits, period. I would take them on a hunting/fishing trip if they haven’t got the B _ _ _s. Lets always watch our six.

  14. Firstly, mass murder, spree murder, mass shooting are al different thing and even within each one there are differing threshold even in the s by different analysts/authorities.

    “Mass shootings” are two or more people injured or dead event. Those nes not decreasing per capita and those are mostly gang related.

    A spree involves several locations of a short period time. EG Mohamed/Malvo (DC Beltway”).

    Mass murder, is one even one place usually with a thro of thee victims dead. The biggest one would be McVeigh

  15. Excellent article, much wisdom. I used to work in inpatient mental health and the Dr’s words ring true to everything I ever saw or heard. Article would be worth keeping on hand to help educate.

  16. Most spree killers don’t kill their victims at one time. They kill them in serial. I don’t know of any mass shooter in the US, that has matched Ted Bundy’s total. He confessed to 36 murders but the authorities believe there were many more.

    • Bundy was interviewed by FBI profiler William Hagmaier. Hagmaier told Bundy that he believed that Bundy had killed more than 36 people. Bundy said, “add one more digit to that number, and you’ll have the real number.”

      Bundy was a scary bastard.

    • Possibly Otis Toole …they have an ongoing serial killer case in Gary, Indiana killing women(mostly prostitutes it seems). I could see that evil POS killing way more than the 7 ascribed SO FAR…

  17. OK, Doc, let’s get this straight. A few crazy people do bad things. A few bad people do crazy things. A few crazy bad people do really evil things. I guess I will keep calm and carry on. I think the authors of the 2nd Amendment understood this, they were a little worried about government tyranny too.

  18. Like others have mentioned, what’s even the point? Not only is the risk of being shot by a mass murderer miniscule compared to being ran over by a car; it’s miniscule compared to being murdered by someone who stops at three or below. It’s just one of those things that sometimes happen to someone. For all I know, the statistical risk of being shot by a mass murderer could be lower than the risk of being shot accidentally by a cop. Especially if you happen to be a black male.

    As also mentioned, a means to limit risk, is to be armed. Another is to avoid non vetted crowds. As would be wearing body armor and driving an armored car. Spending the remainder of ones life in a bunker would probably further lessen risk, although it may increase the chance one ends up on the other side, one of them…. How far one is willing to go, how much one is willing to give up for a bit of added safety, is up to the individual. Or at least ought to be. Government underwriting above minimal risky behavior by trying to make everyone feel safe by wasting fortunes trying to “profile” people; is just more progressive nonsense. And just gives people false security to undertake such behavior (as in: sending ones kids to government ran indoctrination camps, rather than home schooling them), which in turn makes such crimes more likely.

  19. In response to the headline…. soft, spoiled pieces of shit whose first response to rejection was to blame the world instead of themselves. Next question.

  20. My 2A still doesn’t have any exception to the right of the People to keep and bear arms. Liberty > Security.

  21. For the most part, all of them were on SSRI drugs and also from liberal/progressive/socialist families. NOT ONE was an NRA member. So why does the left blame the NRA?

  22. Former Water Walker says:
    July 30, 2015 at 15:55

    ‘2 out of 3 share an aspergers diagnosis. And “storm” sure looks like it is cut from the same disgusting cloth. Clearly all 3 had deep pathological problems. Can we identify mass murderers? Beats me-why isn’t every crazy boy doing this? Maybe good parents have a lot to do with it…’

    I’m a woman with Asperger’s. I also have a CHL. I feel guilty if I have to kill a spider.
    Asperger’s doesn’t turn a person violent-nor is it a mental illness. I’m quirky-I’m not crazy.
    Sometimes, people that do evil things-are simply evil.

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