Most not ‘insane’
To the Editor: In the aftermath of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso and the recent arrests of three young men on suspicion of planning to execute additional attacks, there has been considerable media discussion devoted to the role of mental illness in the perpetuation of these crimes, the identification of warning signs of imminent violence and what measures should be instituted to limit access to firearms.
What is overlooked is that the vast majority of mass killings are not committed by persons who meet the legal standard of not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty but insane.
Famously, these criteria include evidence of a mental defect, typically a variant of psychosis, which is causally connected to the violent act, inability to appreciate right from wrong and impaired ability to control one’s impulses to engage in the violent act.
Most mass killers have one or more personality disorders, usually a “toxic” blend of paranoid, narcissistic, borderline and/or antisocial traits which increase risk for extreme ideological beliefs and the rightness of their cause despite a good appreciation of the criminal nature of their well-planned actions.
These individuals lack the capacity for compassion, empathy and insight and cope by projection of blame and intense feelings of entitlement and omnipotence. However, they are not psychotic and efforts are rarely successful in mitigating the legal consequence of their horrendous crimes by recourse to the insanity defense.
JERROLD POLLAK, Ph.D.