"Before turning the gun on himself" - the psychology behind it

A bit of a sensitive question but I am genuinely curious as to what can be known about the mind workings of mass shooters - most (but not all) end their sprees by either shooting themselves or doing a suicide by cop.

My question is this - psychologically, why do they take a bunch of random strangers along with them? They’re going to kill themselves anyway, so why not give themselves the old 9mm lobotomy without the rampage and save people a lot of pain? Is it a desire for one last bit of ‘revenge’, being remembered (even as a scumbag) or what?

Could be revenge; take out perceived bullies, enemies or institutions of oppression instead of just dying oneself. Kamikaze attitude.
Could be desire for notoriety and posthumous fame; a legacy. Commit suicide? Few notice or care. Shoot 50 people before committing suicide? Suddenly the killer becomes a household name and is talked about in national media for weeks.

There are a couple of cases I recall where revenge was a direct motive; the ‘killdozer’ rampage targeted people who the driver thought had wronged him. He didn’t kill anyone (more through luck than good judgement) but true to form did shoot himself. Elliot Roger’s killings in California were also, according to him, ‘revenge’ against womankind for rejecting him.

Would there be a clinical mental state that would cause someone to think like this - to want to be remembered even if it’s for doing something horrendous? Most people would rather be forgotten than go down in history as a guy who murdered a bunch of kids. Some sort of delusional narcissism, maybe? Are they ill, sick men who could be treated, or evil - just deficient in morals and not health?

One last rider question (I know I’ve asked a lot); why are they always men? This Time article states that 98% of mass shooting perps are men and suggests a few theories; poorer impulse control due to longer maturation, cultural influences, etc.

Revenge on perceived enemies (individual, or groups) along with desire to ‘cheat the hangman’ (even when there isn’t capital punishment in that jurisdiction) thus depriving the state and/or victims of their due process retribution.

Perhaps if someone was borderline suicidal, but not enough to take the shot purely on his own, would find it a more reasonable choice once he’s facing arrest, trial & conviction.

I think it’s excessive narcissism. They don’t see the other people they shoot as real. In the killer’s mind, they’re just supporting players that are killed to call attention to the real climax of the shooting spree which is their own death.

Of course, the vast majority of suicides don’t take other people with them.

My guess is that most mass shooters do not set out to be suicides, however. They are no doubt unhappy to the degree that all suicides are, but, in their insane rage, they somehow imagine that killing a bunch of other people will somehow make their own sorry lives all right. Perhaps they think that at last the world will respect them, or at last they themselves will become strong and in control of their life, able to impose their will on the world. (Cf. Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.) Once they have actually killed a few, however, they begin to sober up, to realize that this is not, in fact, helping them to feel better or be stronger at all, and also that they have no hope whatsoever of getting away with it. Then they switch to regular suicide mode. (Also they may see it as a final “triumph” to deprive the cops of their prey.)

The exception to this, from what I have heard, are “family annihilators” parents (usually fathers) who are in suicidal despair, often because they feel they have failed the family in some way, but who identify so strongly with their family that it does not seem to them that they would truly killing themselves if they did not take the rest of their family with them. In this case, unlike most spree killers, the killer is often already dead before the cops even know anything has happened. (Thankfully, such horrible cases are even rarer than spree killings, but they do happen.)

I’ve gotten to know a few murderers/attempted murderers who then failed at their own suicide attempt. And while I’ve not tended to analyze their behavior in depth, I’d have to say that it’s a crime of passion, being overcome by rage/anger/hostility, followed by an ‘oh shit’ moment, at which time they say “I do not want to face the consequences of this. I’m out of here”.

Now there are often different forces in play when the murderer goes off after doing one killing, then spends minutes/hours hunting down and killing others at a more remote location, before offing himself. But even then, once their goal is accomplished, the emotional mindset can change drastically, and the suicide action plan, previously not examined real closely, gets activated.

Just my two cents, having hung out with these guys.

Now excuse me while I go wash up and scrub my brain.

Because they’re nuts, loony, mentally unbalanced, crazy, deranged, etc. How else could someone justify arriving at the conclusion that murdering multiple innocent victims is required or necessary? There are claims that these monsters did not want to be taken alive after they’ve committed some horrific act. Probably true. Maybe they finally realized what they had done and decided to punish themselves? Maybe they didn’t think that their intended victims are living, breathing human beings with lives of their own and have families that will mourn them?

It would be better for everyone if these monsters reversed their murder priority and place themselves at the top of their own list.

Something I did some research on this when I was working on my Masters.

First thing is you have to differentiate between the various kinds of mass killers even among the rampage styles.

You have the full blown sociopath who doesn’t want to be caught and takes himself (usually a him) out to deny any answers, closure or satisfaction to society and those he harmed in particular. You have the full blown sociopath who doesn’t actually mind being caught but realizes he’s going to be studied and controlled as he controlled his victims and checks himself out. You have manics (often depressives) who are trying to express the pain they feel. You even get some paranoids (sometimes the woman driving her car into the crowded sidewalk) who figure they are screwed so they are going to take out as many of “those out to get them” as possible and then “end the fight against them”. (Some of the family killers come from the last two) Some (such as Charles Whitman) may have organic causes but those are very hotly contested and probably belong in GD.

In other words, whatever the motive for the spree, you may need to look at the base disease first. Usually the “reasoning” comes (in part) from that.

I think your premise is flawed. These aren’t suicidal people who figure they might as well take others with them. They’re people who want to kill other people, but don’t want to face the consequences.

How does any of this relate to a lesser class or suicide, ie. those people who, instead of offing themselves quietly and peacefully, choose to jump off a motorway bridge, or in front of a train, thereby causing considerable disruption.

I used to think that “most people would rather be forgotten than go down in history as a guy who murdered…” But recently I’ve been starting to think of them as sort of normal. Clearly deficient in morals, but otherwise sort of normal. Or maybe not normal, but the whole rest of the world has gotten so narcissistic that they seem sort of normal by comparison.

Let me explain: Consider the mental state of bratty children. Often, their real problem is that they want attention. Doing good doesn’t get them any attention, but doing bad things gets them plenty of attention. It is very sad, but these kids are so hungry for attention that they’re willing to suffer the consequences, if that’s what it takes to get noticed.

Now apply that logic to a grownup. Don’t we all want to change the world? But changing the world in a positive way is extremely difficult. But making a big change to the world in a negative way is rather simple. And these murders are a way of achieving it.

I’ve never quite understood this line of reasoning… no matter what you go through with a trial or once in jail, the consequence IS death. It’s all the same, whether you do it or the state does. The only variable is length of time.

Thanks for the replies, lots of food for thought. Just to quickly reply to two specific points;

In the US this would be a sound rationale however in the UK we don’t have the death penalty and the last three of four perpetrators of mass shootings have topped themselves; the other one was taken alive and judged insane.

While granted a guy who blows his head off after killing a bunch of people and a teenager who ODs will have different mental states, at the end of the day they’re both suicides. Reading wiki on the most infamous murdering shitheads it’s clear that they intended to die, the Virginia Tech murderer for instance saying he’ll die like Jesus. But if you know you’re going to shoot yourself then what’s the point of anything? It’s not going to matter if you’re worm food.

The point of what - a killing spree?

It offers the killer posthumous attention, notoriety, widespread news coverage, infamy, the opportunity to “get a message across,” revenge against perceived enemies, and many other things.
For someone who is mentally unstable or carrying a grudge, that’s a powerful basket of incentives.

Duh. This is a very good point and I’m sorry to have overlooked it. I often forget we live in a global world now. I need to see things a little more outward and less American-centric. Thanks!

I think that you both have hit the nail on the head. These shooters have made elaborate plans to exercise their power, to exact revenge and fulfill their rage. But the more elaborate the plan, the greater the likelihood that something will go wrong almost immediately.

The possibility that all their planning falls apart does not occur to them. They have been so focused upon the elaborate fantasy that in their minds they believe that they are doing rational planning.

Some brave person challenges them, the targets get away or locked down, the cops show up, and all the plan goes poof. And then the suicide becomes the default option, it was never part of the original plan, the original plan was insane success.

Law enforcement tactics have changed since Columbine. The standard practice with a hostage incident was to secure the perimeter and begin negotiations for the safe release of the hostages. Now the police do not wait long before going in to take the person out. This puts the shooter at a disadvantage very quickly.

And the option most often taken is turning the gun on himself.

I wonder if the aspect of not facing the consequences is, in some cases, denying the perpetrator’s opponents/victims/survivors the opportunity for retribution, justice, or even control over the perpetrator.

A sick perversion of a “never surrender, never retreat, and die on my feet rather than live on my knees” attitude.

“You’re not the boss of me, and you never will! I will have the last word!” <blam!>

That may well be it, gnoitall. A way of them still being in control until the very end.