Deciding to Kill | Mind You

By Dr David Laing Dawson

There are a number of ways a boy or a man can come to the conclusion it is time to kill others. And this thought can be transitory or fixed; it can be isolated or socially reinforced. It can include thoughts of surviving or of dying, but it usually includes a fantasy of retaining consciousness, of seeing and experiencing the consequences of the act of killing.

This thought can be the product of a private delusion, or a shared grievance. When it flows from a shared grievance it could be reinforced by anonymous contacts on social media, a cult leader, or a political or military leader.

Just this week we have listened to the phone call home to his father of an excited young man who has just killed a Jewish family in Israel, and now we watch the news as a man flees police after a shooting spree that killed at least 18 people in Maine. In the same time frame a man in Sault St. Marie killed his estranged partner, their three children and himself.

And we are horrified that anyone could do these things. But we should not, by now, be surprised. We should not be surprised because we know there are a number of ways a boy or a man can come to the conclusion it is time to kill others.

The three instances mentioned above are very different. The man in Sault St. Marie was undoubtedly narcissistic, controlling, and probably depressed. Undoubtedly he seethed with anger, resentment, failure and rage. And he had a rifle.

We know the man in Maine is 40, may have been “hearing voices”, and spent two weeks in a mental health facility last summer. He may have developed a treatable mental illness, schizophrenia, psychotic depression, drug or alcohol induced psychosis, or even a brain tumour, leading to delusional thinking and command hallucinations. And he had at his disposal an automatic weapon.

The Palestinian boy is caught up in a cult, a military cult, with his leaders fanning the flames of his zeal, turning his excitement, fear, and terror into blood lust. He seeks his father’s approval. And he has guns.

In the 1970’s I directed a community psychiatry program for a residential, small town, and rural area. We prioritized severe mental illness and saw patients with families. As part of our assessment protocol we asked about guns in the house. When the answer was yes we asked that a family member remove the gun (usually a hunting rifle) from the house, and have it stored somewhere or handed over to the police. We did this because there are a number of ways a boy or a man can come to the conclusion it is time to kill others.

There are other ways of killing of course, but they all take longer, are less certain, require more preparation, and they offer time for the emotion, the fleeting thought to dissipate, or be confronted by doubt, by remorse, by reality. Not so with a gun.

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