According to research conducted by Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) on 82 mass killings that occurred at least partially in academic settings around the world, the majority of mass murderers and mass shooters did not have a severe mental illness.
The study, led by Ragy R. Girgis, MD, and Gary Brucato, PhD, associate research scientist, also showed that semi-automatic or fully-automatic firearms were the most commonly used by mass killers.
The stabbing was the most frequent technique of mass school killings without weapons. According to the study authors, this research represented the most comprehensive examination of major school shootings to date and was published online in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
“Our findings suggest that mass school shootings are different from other forms of mass murder and that they should be looked at as a distinct phenomenon,” said Dr Girgis, director of the Center of Prevention and Evaluation (COPE), a research clinic at Columbia/NYSPI specializing in the study and treatment of young adults at high risk for schizophrenia and other psychoses. “To prevent future mass school shootings, we need to begin to focus on the cultural and social drivers of these types of events, such as the romanticization of guns and gun violence, rather than on individual predictors.”
The Columbia Mass Murder Database (CMMD), created by the COPE team to gather much-needed insight into the association between significant mental illness and mass shootings, served as the data source for the researchers’ study. In order to create the CMMD, a thorough analysis of 14,785 homicides publicly reported in English in print or online between 1900 and 2019 was required.
For the mass school shooting study, the researchers singled out instances of mass murder committed at least in part at educational institutions including schools, colleges, and universities and arranged them according to their location (inside the US or outside) and whether or not weapons were involved.
Nearly half (47.6 per cent) and the majority of the 82 mass shootings that took place in academic settings involved weapons (63.2 per cent).
In line with other data, the majority of mass shooters that take place in academic settings include Caucasians (66.7 per cent) and men (100 per cent).
“Most of the offenders lacked severe mental disease, such as psychosis; when present, psychotic symptoms are more often linked to mass shootings in contexts where there is no firearms present.
In nearly half (45.6 per cent) of mass shootings at schools, the shooter committed suicide. Paul S. Appelbaum, MD, a co-author and the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia, asserted that it is inaccurate to attribute violence as being primarily caused by mental illness.
“The findings strongly suggest that focusing on mental illness, particularly psychotic illness, when talking about mass school shootings risks is missing other factors that contribute to the vast majority of cases, as well as exacerbating the already widespread stigma surrounding severe mental illness,” said Dr Appelbaum.
Because roughly half of the mass shooters committed suicide there, the authors argue that they may have viewed their activities as a type of last act.
The findings of the study are designed to help politicians and law enforcement officials understand the phenomenon of mass school shootings and how it differs from other forms of mass homicides. The authors emphasise that given these factors, it is difficult to predict an individual’s behaviour.