It can seem all but impossible to understand why anyone would commit a mass murder as Jared Loughner did near Tucson, as James Holmes is accused of doing in Aurora, Co., as Wade Michael Page did at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last Sunday, and as happens, on a smaller scale, about 20 times a year in the U.S., but forensic psychologists and other behavioral scientists are identifying reasons that can predispose someone to commit mass violence, and “warning behaviors,” such as a fast- growing fascination with weapons and violence, that should signal the need for intervention, says the Arizona Republic.
“We’ll never be able to predict which individual, out of many, will carry out an act of targeted violence,” says J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego. Still, he said it’s often possible to identify people who fall into high-risk groups and to take action to intervene — from requiring counseling to restricting access to weapons to seeking involuntary commitment, or other steps in between. “These strategies are being applied all over the country every day now, by mental-health professionals, teams in corporate settings and universities, by law-enforcement officers,” he said. While he declined to offer examples, he said there are many cases where the risk is being reduced, though it’s impossible to say whether violence is being stopped. Meloy is working on a case in which he’s helping to plan a strategy to handle a person engaged in threatening behavior in a workplace setting “where a mass shooting could be carried out relatively easily.”