Celebrate the Facts!
5/30/2022 2 Comments
The incidence of serial killings has declined, but mass shootings have risen. While many people theorize significant differences between the two groups, the similarities are striking. There are valuable lessons from how law enforcement reacted to serial killers that are easily translatable to managing mass shooters. Unfortunately, the United States seems so stuck in tribal gridlock that solutions seem impossible.
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines serial killing as the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s) in separate events. Serial killers and mass murderers both kill multiple people, but serial killers allow time to elapse before killing again. Mass murderers, by contrast, commit all their murders in a brief, one-time event. School shooters are mass murderers, not serial killers.
The psychological finding is the serial killer has an overpowering need to exercise power over others. Serial killing numbers increased over several decades per an overall rise in crime rates. Similarly, the subsequent fall in serial killings followed the slope of the decrease in crime rates.
The criminal justice system rarely serial killers legally insane, although it’s hard to fathom how someone who commits these crimes contains any molecule of sanity. The most constant psychological trait among serial killers appears to be highly antisocial conduct. They seem incapable of sorrow for their acts, operate outside the law and societal norms, lack empathy for their victims and seek vengeance against individuals or society through their outrageous crimes.
Fascinating facts about serial killers:
Psychologists describe a sequence of stages in the cycle of serial killers:
Some experts theorize that advances in forensic investigation, especially DNA testing, have resulted in the decline in serial killers. Police have apprehended about thirty murderers and rapists (and counting) by combining genetic testing and public genealogy site DNA data. One of the most recent examples is police charging the Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, many decades after he slaughtered 12 women between 1976 and 1986.
The resultant higher prospect of arrest might help the decline, although one can question how much that might affect someone compelled to take another person’s life. In the United States, police clear only about 60% of all homicides, although serial killing has some characteristics that make those particular maniacs easier to arrest. For example, serial killers tend to use the same method of operation, operate near their homes, and choose similar victims so they are easier to identify. That, combined with DNA evidence, often solves these horrid crimes.
A more significant factor in reducing serial killers is more prolonged prison sentences and reductions in parole over time. If the criminal justice system arrested potential serial killers earlier and imprisoned them longer, they would have less time in public to kill again and would be much older upon release. The reduction is likely the result of the factors mentioned above, plus education and public awareness.
Mass shooters have similar characteristics to serial killers and some significant differences. Some criminologists surmise serial killers morphed into mass shooters, an awful lot who have grown as the numbers of serial killers have declined. Indeed, they share similar traits but have significant disparities.
A quick look at mass shooter characteristics:
Several organizations collect data on mass shootings, but there is no federal definition for this category. As a result, the United States government does not publish specific segregated data. Instead, the nongovernmental databases track frequency, deaths, injuries, and perpetrator information, but the databases define mass shooters differently, rendering comparisons problematic.
This creates a considerable problem in governance and public health. Policymakers, working with imperfect and sometimes contradictory data, have found it challenging to arrive at authoritative conclusions about how to mitigate the problem. For society to alleviate the problem, it needs to define it, collect data, and analyze it.
In addition, the ‘gun rights’ single-issue political and culture war has resulted in predictable cycles of outrage and scorn, seemingly staged for media consumption, followed by inaction. The confluence of cloudy data, limited understanding of the mental health issues, and media and political engagement in culture wars result in the current unfortunate situation.
A huge problem is the lack of detailed psychological analysis of mass murderers. The criminal justice system diverts them into the prison-industrial complex for execution or lifetime incarceration, a terrible waste of potential information necessary to inform prevention and diversion. Detailed examination of these people using various tools would provide researchers with the required evidence to understand the problem.
Finally, the federal government providing a firm definition of mass shootings followed by an exhaustive classification of past events would be invaluable to researchers and allow for a more informed discussion based on facts. In addition, results would help drive early intervention rather than reactive hand wringing after massacres.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.