Every single time it happens we ask the question.
Hamline University Criminal Justice Professor Jillian Peterson, and a team of students, are beginning to ask that question in a bigger way.
“So far we have been looking at each of these as individual case studies, so, we are now taking the time to put them together to look for patterns. It is a different approach,” Peterson said, describing the large research project she is shepherding on mass shooters in America.
The team is going back more than 25 years, to each mass shooting event, to figure out if there is any commonality among them.
“We are taking 130 mass shooters that have been agreed upon by definitions and we are coding them on 50 different variables so anything from their life history, background, employment, warning signs, triggers for odd behavior, as much information as we can gather about who these individuals were to build the psychological life history the best that we can,” Peterson said.
Peterson is doing this for a very real reason.
"If we don’t start to understand the 'why,' we can never even get close to stopping a person before it’s too late."
But along that line, when we think about this as something to stop, we should re-think everything we know about that.
"When we try to prevent crime, a lot of times we think about deterrents, right?" Peterson said. "If you commit this crime you have to go to prison for this long. These crimes are not the same. They are not motivated by the same thing. If you plan on killing yourself, deterrence is off the table and that’s where we have trouble with this kind of crime. We don’t know how to deter it.”