Why do people commit mass shootings?

It happened again. Someone walked into a “safe” place with a gun, opened fire, and the number of casualties is terrifying. It’s hard to understand what could prompt someone to do that.

And, as you’re trying to understand and come to terms with it, your kids are asking you why it happened. That’s normal, because we’re our children’s guides to the world. We explain everything from why the sun sets to why we can’t bring that sick baby bird in the house. When they don’t understand something, they look to us because they know we’ll always have the answer. But at the moment, what is the best answer?

As professional counselors, we don’t have easy answers, either. We’re intrigued when we hear about mass shootings and other horrific crimes, because our profession is all about understanding human behavior. We learn from every client and everyone we interact with. The people who commit mass shootings and other crimes are outliers. We only get bits and pieces of their lives. We don’t know their full stories or why they felt a need to lash out so violently. If we knew, we might be able to see the same tendencies in someone else and steer them down a different path in life.

We all have needs, and we all have different ways of addressing those needs. When we get stressed, some of us reach for a glass of wine, some of us for a donut, and some of us do yoga. When we get angry, we may go jogging, take deep breaths, or talk it out with a friend. Often, the people in incidents such as this lack coping mechanisms,and are isolated from healthy support systems. They don’t know how to process anger or other emotions, so they lash out at others. What we do know is that emotions will eventually surface – one way or another.

We may never know exactly what prompted this event, but it’s reminder that we all need to develop safe coping mechanisms, live in communities with support, and be affirmed for expressing emotions in healthy ways. If you’re worried about someone you love and the way they cope or show emotions, set up an appointment with us. We’ll be happy to listen to your concerns and help you find more effective ways to deal with your emotions.

For specific ways to talk with your kids, we recommend this article from Focus on the Family. And please call us if you’d like us to help your family, church, or youth group to process these recent events.