Active Shooter Myths Revisited
Updated: Feb 25, 2019
About a month ago, we published a blog debunking the five myths of active shooters. If you recall, Myth #1 was that active shooters fit a profile, and we discussed that while the FBI does indeed have a physical profile for active shooters, it is dangerous to put an airtight seal around that profile. Doing so risks missing some vital pointers to potential active shooters. Myth #3 stated that active shooters tend to be people with low self-esteem. That myth was debunked with the research that showed that shooters actually tend to be more narcissistic. Today, we will look deeper into these myths.
Let’s look deeper into Myth #1. Do active shooters have a profile? According to the FBI, the active shooter profile is a “young, white male who feels entitled and has been bullied (or marginalized), who has access to guns at home [simply because he cannot get them anywhere else legally], is an honor roll student from a good community, has intolerant attitudes toward racial or religious minorities, possesses a superiority attitude, has poor coping skills, and exhibits distorted thinking relative to negativity he perceives from others.” However, according to Officer.com, there is no accurate physical description of active shooters. The profile is far too vague, especially since white males are the majority in schools. The group of students this profile encompasses is much too large to actually pin down a potential shooter. Additionally, the continual development of adolescents makes it difficult to emotionally profile an active shooter. The glitches in this profile are exemplified by the fact that the shooter at Virginia Tech was a Korean student. While the majority of active shooters have been white males, there have been black, Native American, and Latino shooters as well. Not all of the shooters were male either, though they were indeed the overwhelming majority.
Now let’s take a deeper look at Myth #3. Do active shooters tend to have low self-esteem? According to psychological studies, the opposite is actually true. Active shooters tend to have extremely high self-esteem, bordering on narcissism. There are several similarities among active shooters. They tend to have an exaggerated need for respect and attention, and when they do not get that need met, they feel alienated and bullied. If you couple that with a lack of a coping mechanism, they tend to become instinctively angry. Small, seemingly insignificant issues can create a mountain of blame and anger, possibly resulting in violent action. These people tend to have a need to be recognized and they blame their failures and shortcomings on other people. They create a world in their minds where they are owed respect, and whomever they blame for them not getting the respect they feel they deserve needs to be blamed.
So what is the seeming motivation behind active shooter events, particularly in schools? According to officers.com, “the shooting becomes a statement of whom they want to be…these are crimes in which the perpetrators aim for immortality and spectacle and see the shooting as their crowning achievement. After that, nothing else matters, including living.” It seems the entire motivation is for fame and notoriety. It is a last-ditch attempt to get the “respect” they feel they deserve.
But that brings up another question: Why would you seek the negative attention gained from being an active shooter? Officers.com had a theory, and according to that theory, there seems to be a link between the destructive actions of the active shooters and the cultural image of masculinity pushed in the US. This theory was developed by comparing to Israel, which has a high number of heavy arms due to their security focus but few if any active shooter incidents. The difference seems to be in the cultural idea of masculinity. In the US, the media pushes the idea that true masculinity is destructive: Superheroes are good fighters; rogue CIA agents are dramatically violent. The images constantly projected to young boys is that to be truly masculine, you must be strong and destructive. In Israel, destruction for its own sake is virtually unheard of. Violence is a last resort, fighting is for protection, and military is seen as protection rather that conquering.
While the theories behind the mind of an active shooter are intriguing, and while our minds seek desperately to understand why these people choose to do what they do, it is impossible to fully understand. However, it is possible to prepare for the situations, should they arise. And the more prepared you are, the harder and more unattractive of a target you become. Remember that the incentive of an active shooter is to be able to inflict as much damage as possible in the shortest amount of time possible, simply for the notoriety. If you take away the ability to “achieve” by strengthening your defense and preparing yourselves for active shooter situations, the incentive to actually commit the action is reduced. Preparation is a key to nipping active shooter situations in the bud.