Shooters: Why do They do It?

By Dr. Cletus R. Bulach, Special for USDR.

Why do shooters take a gun and kill people and then kill themselves?Tragedies like this do occur and people wonder why things like this happen. Just this past week, another shooting occurred in a New Mexico school. How can tragedies like this be explained. Is it possible that they occur when one or more of life’s five basic needs are not being met?The five basic needs are: life, caring, control, purpose, and happiness. How did I come up with these five basic needs?

I have been concerned for years about poor test scores in our schools when compared to other countries and that is how I came up with life’s five basic needs. In addition to low test scores, there are many other problems in our schools.There is the high dropout rate and low graduation rate. There is the time lost to instruction because teachers have to stop teaching to control student misbehavior.Other problems are: bullying behavior; teachers who quit after 3-5 years of teaching; a negative school culture and climate; and shootings that occur in the school setting, with the worst being the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.Is the school environment causing these problems?

In researching answers to these questions, I would have to state that the school environment contributes to these problems, but is not the cause. The underlying problem or cause is that the five basic needs, formany students, teachers, and administrators, are not being met. When these needs are not being met, a person must respond in some way to get these needs met. How people respond or why they behave the way they do has been debated for centuries.

In the 19th Century, Nietzsche disagreed with earlier philosophers on this topic. Earlier philosophers stated that people behave the way they do because they want to be alive and happy. He wrote that there was a more important need than life and happiness, and it was power.He wrote that the need for power was more essential than life or happiness. I agree with Nietzsche’s theory, but I look at power as control. With power you gain control. What is life if you do not have control? The feeling is one of hopelessness and not a good one! Just look at human history and the wars that have been fought to gain control. If you look at what is happening in the Middle East, North Korea, and in our own government, it is all about control.

Having some control over your life is a basic need, but being alive and having moments of happiness are also basic needs. It seems obvious that everyone wants to be alive and happy, but these needs are often overlooked. What happens in the family and the place of employment is basic to being alive and happy. Is it a caring and nurturing relationship? Being alive and happy is like a hand and glove. They go together and balance each other. A happy person is very much alive and will be successful in life. An unhappy one will not and must do something to restore the imbalance.

However, I disagree with Nietzsche that human behavior is only about control.There are two other basic needs for success in life. There is a need to have others care about you and a need to have purpose in your life. Having some control in your life means nothing if your life does not have a purpose. Approximately 50% of all people go to work for one thing and that is to get a paycheck. This results in a lack of motivation and low productivity. Dr. Mehmet Oz, a noted heart surgeon,stated that a person without a purpose will atrophy both mentally and physically. Rick Warren, the Dalai Lama, and others have also spoken about the importance of purpose in life.

The last of the five basic needs is the belief or feeling that others care about you. The easiest way to show someone that you care is to “listen” to them. Caring behaviors can be seen and they are also felt. If a person were to wake up one morning and realize that no one cared about them, how would that feel? Caring is perhaps the most important need for humans. At birth, a baby has only one need and that is to be cared for. They are alive, not happy (cooing comes later), have no control, and have no purpose. At death, the same thing occurs. A person who is dying also needs care.

Now, we return to the question of why the shooter does what s/he does. The Colorado shooter and the Sandy Hook shooter had a few things in common. Both had lost their purpose in life. One had his computers taken away and the other had lost all hope of getting a doctorate degree. Both believed no one cared about them. One’s mother was spending more time at Sandy HookElementary School than with her son, and the other was rejected by his university. Neither one was happy about their situation. They were no longer in control of their lives. In short, their needs were not being met, and life was not worth living. They had to do something about it, so they got a gun. With the gun, they gained control and purpose. I doubt that their caring and happiness needs were met and that’s why suicide followed.

To summarize, it is important that these five basic needs be met. If one or more of these needs are not being met, a lot of energy/activity will be spent to get them met. For example, they can stay home and be absent from work.They can resort to drugs and alcohol for the high that gives them the feeling of happiness and control. They can become depressed, commit suicide, or become emotionally or physically abusive. When a person’s needs arenotbeing met the response is almost always a negative behavior. Thank goodness there are only a few who get a gun and resort to shooting others. We can never know for sure why some people get a gun and start shooting others, but hopefully, we can raise awareness of life’s five basic needs. When we see someone who is struggling with these needs, perhaps we can intervene and help them get their needs met.



Dr. Cletus R. Bulach is a retired Ohio school superintendent and associate professor emeritus at the University of West Georgia.  He is the author of numerous articles in educational journals and is co-author of the book Creating a Culture for A High Performing School: A Comprehensive Approach to School Reform, Dropout Prevention, and Bullying Behavior. His website The reform and school culture described in the book create a learning environment where students’ five basic needs are met. This leads to improved test scores and a 75% reduction in student discipline and misbehavior problems.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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