The Clackamas Mall Shooting and Civilian Defense Against Mass Shooters

A bunch of people have pointed me to this Portland TV station’s story about the Clackamas Town Center shooting in Oregon. On December 11, Jacob Tyler Roberts killed two people at the mall and wounded a third. Nick Meli, who had a concealed carry license, was apparently at the mall, took out his gun, aimed at Roberts, but didn’t shoot because there was someone running across the field of fire. Meli then took cover, and Roberts shot and killed himself.

I didn’t add this to my earlier post on armed citizens capturing, killing, or stopping mass shooters because it’s hard to tell just why Roberts acted as he acted. (I’m also hesitant to rely on self-reports by defenders; though I have no specific reason to doubt Meli’s story, I’m generally a skeptical guy, especially when it comes to uncorroborated accounts. Even people who aren’t making things up — and Meli’s story isn’t the sort of especially heroic tale that particularly smacks of possible fabrication — might easily misremember important details, especially when they were under serious stress at the time of the event.) Unlike in the Colorado Springs shooting, the shooter hadn’t been wounded, and didn’t necessarily have the sense that the gig was up. Roberts’ killing himself might thus have little to do with his seeing Meli (assuming Meli is correct in saying that Roberts did see him) and more to do with Roberts’ being ready for his exit at that point.

At the same time, it’s also possible that the shooter did kill himself in response to the sense that someone was gunning for him. My vague and nonprofessional sense is that many (though of course not all) of the shooters kill themselves because they kill to seek a feeling of power, and therefore prefer death to the extended pain, humiliation, and contempt — the very opposite of power — to which they will surely be subjected if they are captured. And when someone seems ready to shoot at you, it’s possible that he’ll hit you in a way that doesn’t kill you but does keep you from killing yourself; therefore, if you want to be certain to avoid capture, you have to kill yourself right away.

Perhaps that’s also what happened in the Colorado Springs shooting, where the killer shot himself after being wounded (though there the pain of the wounds might also have played a role). And it seems to have happened in the Connecticut shooting, where the murderer killed himself as the police were closing in, but before the police had even shot at him (though query whether shooters might have a different reaction to a mass police arrival than to seeing one defender, who might or might not be an off-duty police officer). Do any readers know of any psychological literature on these questions?

In any case, I think the Clackamas incident is too uncertain and ambiguous for me to include in my earlier post, but I thought I’d mention my extremely tentative thoughts (and reservations) about it, since so many people have brought it up. And if someone has more information, whether pointers to contemporaneous eyewitness reports or pointers to psychological literature, I’d love to see them.

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