top of page

The Psychology Behind Gun Violence

Another mass killing has taken place, this time at California facility for people with developmental disabilities. More than a dozen people are dead. What causes this madness? And what can and are we willing to do to stop it?

Robert Mendoza a forensic psychologist, and John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, joined Jim to discuss the issues involved.

In response to criminologists who claim that the number of mass killings is no greater than ten years ago, Mendoza said, "those criminologists might want to pick up a more recent journal." He said the number of people killed in mass shootings is on the rise the past four or five years. He attributes, in part, a culture shift — a smaller world due to media and social media as well as copycats. 

Mendoza claims the scientific thinking behind mass shootings is shifting as well after years of people believing they could not be prevented. "The models of threat assessment now can identify people early on — they call it a pathway to violence," said Mendoza, explaining that the FBI has a new, targeted organization that is looking at ways to identify mass shooters and what motivates them. 

"Mass shootings are not impulsive things," Mendoza said, "these are planned, organized things. And what we have found over and over again, with a small percentage of exceptions, there is a way to identify these people early on."

Rosenthal believes the issue comes down largely to gun access. "After every mass shooting, we always talk about everything else but unrestricted access to the firearms," he said. "We've always had mental illness in this country, we're not unique to that, we just happen to arm everyone with military-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines — the common denominator in all the mass shootings."

Rosenthal took issue with what he characterized as lax background checks and the expired assault weapon ban. He cited 160 school shootings since Sandy Hook in December 2012 and one or more mass shootings every day of 2015 (mass shootings are defined as four or more people wounded or killed by gunfire). "We can find these people before they shoot," said Rosenthal, "by requiring a background check and having some accountability."

"What we've done in Massachusetts, accountability on the part of gun owners, dealers, manufacturers and law enforcement, we're the model for the nation," Rosenthal said. "We're an urban, industrial state with the toughest gun laws and the lowest firearm fatality rate of any state in the nation, except for Hawaii, so we're the model. And eventually... whether it's 400 kids at one time or a couple members of congress at one time, at some point there will be a tipping point."


bottom of page