Public awareness is best prevention against mass shootings, expert says

Public awareness is best prevention against mass shootings, expert says
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The author of a book read by Munich shopping centre killer David Ali Sonboly has told Euronews that the best way of preventing such incidents is to increase public awareness of the tell-tale signs linked to attackers.

Peter Langman, a psychologist whose book Why Kids Kill was found in Sonboly’s home, told Euronews that because mass killers tend to be inspired by previous attacks, it is important to take every opportunity to increase public vigilance.

“Unfortunately, it does seem that one attack can influence other people to commit attacks,” he noted. “That is why it is important for the media to not focus on the perpetrator, but rather on the victims, and also to use the incident as an opportunity to educate the public about warning signs of potential violence.”

Sonboly opened fire in a McDonald’s restaurant on the fifth anniversary of the killing spree of far-right sympathiser Anders Breivik in Norway. He seems to have heavily researched other attacks, and visited the scene of a 2009 school shooting in the German town of Winnenden.

In an email response to questions from Euronews, Langman continued: “Mass shooters often leave a long trail of warning signs in their writings in school, posts online and on social media, comments to their friends, threats to their perceived enemies, and so on. This is called “leakage” because they “leak” their intentions. Teaching people about leakage is the most effective method of prevention.”

He pointed out that the profile of mass shooters like Sonboly were often not the same as those who might decide to commit terrorist attacks after becoming religiously radicalised.

“People who become “radicalised” and commit suicidal mass violence are often very disturbed people, but they do not necessarily fit the categories of school shooters.”

  • For more information on identifying the signs of potential school shooters, see Langham’s web page
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