Mass Shootings: The Psychology Behind the Violence

Candle for mass shootings

Many Americans are no doubt living in a cloud of anxiety about the recent mass shootings of 2017. These include the shootings at a Las Vegas concert and the shootings at a South Texas church in which left 26 people dead and 20 wounded.

On Sunday, November 5, 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley targeted members of the First Baptist Church in the rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

According to an article by CBS News, Kelley dressed in black tactical attire. Next, he methodically gunned down church members from a 1-year-old child to an elderly person of 77. He left 26 dead and 20 injured.

Then, he ended his own life.

The surviving members of the families that most of the victims came from are left to pick up the pieces.

Meanwhile, we are left trying to figure out why this happens and how to keep it from happening again.

Psychology of Mass Shooters

Unfortunately, unlike most serial killers, mass shooters seem to have self-destruction as their end goal. They are not usually alive after their deeds to interview. We can’t get a first-person account from one of these shooters about why they made the decision they did.

There is a pattern, though, and it seems to hold true for other mass shooters: trouble and alienation.

Kelley was in trouble personally, professionally, and legally. There were warning signs. However, as no one in his family was thinking it was leaning toward this kind of crime, the warning signs went unheeded until it was too late.

According to an article in The Alternative Daily, and many experts on this subject, here are some warning signs:

Antisocial tendencies

Most of these lone gunmen are just that – they have experienced a string of failures in many areas of their lives – professionally, personally, and even legally.

Kelley had spent time in military prison and was in trouble with the law before his spree. He had been stirring up trouble and arguments on Facebook with members of the church before his crime and had had a string of trouble with romantic relationships.


Mass shooters often have had a depressed outlook on life – either undiagnosed depression or depression that wasn’t severe enough to be heeded by those surrounding the shooters.

Inadequate Coping Skills

Mass shooters seem to have a pattern of low function. They have had trouble gaining employment, or staying in the military or even handling an adult relationship. When troubles pile up, these individuals can’t seem to cope and bounce back. They come to believe the world is against them and that the only way to seem like a man is to get back at the world in a violent way.

A History of Cruelty to People & Animals

Kelley had served times in military prison for assault of his wife and child. His first wife was granted a divorce because of his violence. Kelley had also been in trouble with the law for getting caught beating up a dog. News has come out he had used animals for target practice.


As horrific mass shootings continue to plague our nation, we would do well to heed warning signs for what they are. Young, alienated men are at risk if they exhibit these warning signs.

If you or someone you love is in trouble with the law for violence and has other problems of this nature, it’s important to get professional treatment. In addition, it is critical that you seek professional legal counsel.