Advancing the prediction and prevention of murder-suicide

Published date09 July 2018
Date09 July 2018
AuthorMatthew C. Podlogar,Anna R. Gai,Matthew Schneider,Christopher R. Hagan,Thomas E. Joiner
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Invited submission
Advancing the prediction and
prevention of murder-suicide
Matthew C. Podlogar, Anna R. Gai, Matthew Schneider, Christopher R. Hagan and
Thomas E. Joiner
Purpose The phenomenon of murder-suicide (aka. homicide-suicide) makes a sizeable impact on current
public perceptions and policies regarding mental illness and risk for violence. However, within the past
25 years, our understanding of murder-suicide has remained relatively stable, and so has our relative inability
to reliably predict and prevent it. The purpose of this paper is to propose pathways for furthering a cogent
understanding of murder-suicide that may inform specific predictive and preventative practices.
Design/methodology/approach Research literature regarding empirical and theoretical positions in the
fields of murder-suicide, homicide, and suicide are reviewed and discussed.
Findings While murder-suicide has many similarities to both homicide and suicide, no current theories of
either alone have been successful in fully incorporating the phenomenon of murder-suicide. Theories specific
to murder-suicide as a unique form of violence are in need of further research.
Originality/value Developing and empirically testing theories of murder-suicide may lead to a vast and
needed improvement of our understanding, prediction, and prevention of these tragedies.
Keywords Dyadic death, Extended-suicide, Homicide-suicide, Mass shooting, Murder-suicide, Suicide attack
Paper type General review
Murder-suicide is an extremely tragic form of violent behavior. Although murder-suicide occurs
much less frequently than either homicide or suicide (Liem et al., 2011), it is nevertheless
estimated to claim between 1,000 and 1,800 lives in the USA annually, with an estimated
average of 11-17 murder-suicide incidents occurring each week ( Joiner, 2014; Violence Policy
Center, 2015). Additionally, media reports of murder-suicide tend to magnify their impact to
audiences far beyond the people involved, and the continuing occurrence and publicity of
murder-suicide incidents, in particular, mass murder-suicide incidents, creates far-reaching
cultural consequences regarding public perceptions of violence and mental illness (Duwe, 2000;
Tatum et al., 2010; Shultz et al., 2013; Flynn et al., 2015; Towers et al., 2015).
For example, in response to the April 2007 mass shooting murder-suicide at Virginia Tech
University, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement
Amendments Act of 2007 was signed into US law with the explicit aim of keeping firearms out
of the handsof any person who, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness,
incompetency, c ondition, or disease,has been determined to be a danger to himself or others
or who has been committed to a mental institution (NICS Improvement Amendments Act
of 2007). Prevention of future murder-suicide tragedies like the 2007 Virginia Tech
shooting or many subsequent mas s shooting murder- suicide incidents among tho usands
more domestic murder-suicide incidents is obviously deeply desired and needed. However,
in order to advance the understanding and prevention of such tragedies, we may be in need of
policies that are less universally sweeping against people with mental illness, and rely more on
Received 8 August 2017
Revised 27 September 2017
Accepted 23 October 2017
This research was supported in
part by a grant from the Military
Suicide Research Consortium, an
effort supported by the Office of
the Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Health Affairs under Award No.
(W81XWH-10-2-0181). Opinions,
interpretations, conclusions and
recommendations are those of the
authors and are not necessarily
endorsed by the Military Suicide
Research Consortium or the
Department of Defense.
Matthew C. Podlogar,
Anna R. Gai and
Matthew Schneider are
Doctoral Students, all at
Florida State University,
Tallahassee, Florida, USA.
Christopher R. Hagan is a
Postdoctoral Researcher
at the University of Wisconsin
Eau Claire, Eau Claire,
Wisconsin, USA.
Thomas E. Joiner is a
Robert O. Lawton
Distinguished Professor of
Psychology at Florida State
University, Tallahassee,
Florida, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-08-2017-0309 VOL. 10 NO. 3 2018, pp.223-234, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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