The Phenomenological Psychology of Stopping an Active Shooter

By Broomé, Rodger E.; Russell, Eric J. | Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology, August 2018 | Go to article overview

The Phenomenological Psychology of Stopping an Active Shooter


Broomé, Rodger E., Russell, Eric J., Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology


Introduction

The purpose of this single instance phenomenological psychological study was to explore what it is like for a police officer to use deadly force to stop an active shooter in an urban city of the Western United States. Spree shootings or as it became cliché in the 1980s "Going Postal" emerged as a social phenomenon in which disgruntled employees, whose employment was terminated, returned to work with a firearm and shot up their workplace to include killing supervisors and some co-workers (Ames, 2005). School shootings emerged later that followed the same kind of pattern and destruction. Children for various social reasons planned, coordinated, and executed the mass shootings of other children and adults in the schools they attended (Newman, Fox, Harding, Mehta, & Roth, 2004).

Some research suggests that this social phenomenon is idealized in the media and practiced in military-originated simulation combat video games that teach people how to strategically plan and move, tactically locate and engage targets, all the while considering the activity instrumentally intriguing (Ferguson et al., 2008; Grossman, 2014; 2016). The military developed these simulations and training exercises to increase shot-performance in soldiers when it was found that many would fire over the heads of their enemy in an instinctual aversion to committing homicide (Grossman, 2009). But a lot of this literature is aimed at trying to find out what initiates, motivates, and puts a person into action to arrive at a place that would typically be considered "their place" to rapidly shoot and kill other people with the intentions of making a public terroristic gesture (Newman et al., 2004). Police respond to such incidents to stop the homicidal destruction and enable emergency medical services (EMS) workers to save as many people as possible. However, there has not been research conducted up until now that explores the first-person perspective of the officers charged with the duty to respond, locate, and stop the assailant from continuing the homicidal destruction. We can reasonably suggest then, that it is not known what it is like for a police officer to use deadly force to stop an active shooter who is in the process of executing a mass spree shooting on an assembly of other people.

Literature Review

The emergency event known as an "active shooter" which was previously characterized as a "spree shooter," is a (relatively) low-frequency yet high-impact crisis event in society when compared to other violent crimes. "Lone-wolf" and ideological spree shooters have become regarded as, not only a threat to society, but further a threat to national security in the United States (Capellan, 2015). The intention of the active shooter is to kill as many people as possible before being confronted by authorities. Although the research shows that the higher the body count, the randomness of victims, and more public the place, the more likely the assailant is to end up dead by self-inflicted wounds or being shot by police (Lindsay, & Lester, 2004). It is therefore seen by researchers and authorities that the goal of the active shooter is a high body count (Capellan, 2015). For this reason, often times the location of the attack is a place where people are least likely to have an ability to effectively respond to the military-style assault by the assailant.

There are at least two reasons for the increased instances of active shooters. First, mass murder in the form of "mass shootings" is a new emergent kind of public massacre that originated sometime in the 1960s and it has been increasing. Aside from the lethality, the unique dimensions of these active shooter incidents are that they are executed in schools by teenagers or young adults (in the case of events in institutions of higher education.) Secondly, an active shooter phenomenon supersedes previous definitions of mass murder. There has been controversy among scholars pertaining to the number of victims that constitutes a "mass murder" (Huff-Corzine et al. …

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