PSYCHOLOGY 101: the mind of a shooter

Understanding how a gunman thinks could help law enforcement prevent another shooting tragedy


     The Depravity Standard will also give law enforcement professionals more control to ensure the case they investigated is the case that the judge and jury learns about. Welner says that in his experience, an officer will work on a case, supply evidence to prosecutors and close the case with enough confidence for a conviction, but by the time the case goes to trial and the defendant is convicted, the sentencing doesn't fit the crime.

     "If the case gets plead to a lesser charge or something that doesn't resemble what the officers were investigating, officers and detectives may regret how the case outcome has nothing to do with the case they investigated," Welner says.

     According to Welner, the Depravity Scale will also establish the guidelines of how the severity of a crime is viewed and how socially unacceptable it is. These guidelines could also apply to law enforcement by providing officers with another way of understanding the criminal psychology of a shooter.

     "This absolutely loops back to the Depravity Scale, in the sense that if we define societal standards for an evil crime, it is easier for us to repudiate and point out to young and impressionable people that this behavior is wrong, and why it is nothing to draw notoriety from," Welner says. "That, in my opinion, is how we are going to extinguish mass homicide."

     Welner expects to complete research for The Depravity Scale in a year, and it will be implemented on a tentative basis. He says this learning curve will help define which cases are brought forward for the most severe punishment and aid legislators in distinguishing crimes, sentences and parole eligibility.

Taking away the incentive

     "The Depravity Scale will have a revolutionary impact on justice many years from now, and we need to carefully and sensitively appreciate all of angles it will intersect with in the justice system," according to Welner.

     "Mass shooting is a copycat crime," Welner adds. "If societal standards are set for what is depraved in crime it can also be easier to determine the level of exposure sensational crimes should receive without rewarding attention-seeking criminals." He says people must become more civic-minded, using wise and practical self-defense to work with law enforcement before the police arrive at the scene of a shooting. Shifting the attention to survivors, victims and the community no longer gives an incentive to a shooter, who thought he would get recognized for his crime.

     In Welner's opinion, an important lesson to learn from a shooting catastrophe is the significance of law enforcement and the general public working together to maintain safety.

     "This takes the pressure off the police, creates a sense of confidence in our institutions and empowers people to manage their own communities," Welner says.

     Although it is inevitable for more shooting crimes to occur, Welner hopes the media, academia and parents will help extinguish copycat crime.

     "In my professional opinion, law enforcement has to be very active in teaching safety issues and promoting heroism and victims," says Welner, "Law enforcement needs to stay away from giving a sense of humanity to people who do inhuman things."

Early intervention important

     Active shooters have a plan which includes an angry fantasy, violent crescendo and often fatal finale. Some experts say children who have undetected social and psychological problems early in their lives could easily "slip through the cracks" of the school system and society.

     Ann Marie Lenhardt, Ph.D., is conducting a study about the life behaviors and patterns of 15 school shooters in 13 incidences of targeted school violence in the United States.

     As a school violence expert and professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, Lenhardt says the study reveals an early onset of similarities in the shooters' behavior.

     "Looking at the lives of the shooters we studied, there were characteristics from early on, in elementary or middle school, where they felt picked on and didn't feel like they were part of any group," Lenhardt says.

     The shooters turned to violence as a coping mechanism, and most had very turbulent parent-child relationships with a perceived lack of support from their parents.

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