A wave of violence is gripping the nation. In the past few months alone, there have been mass shootings at several colleges, each of which seemed to erupt in the news for a few days before fading away. There are other types of murders every day as well, and many smaller mass shootings that barely reach the news. Though many have turned the discussion to gun control, one Yale researcher decided to focus on something else — “motive control.”

James Kimmel Jr., a psychiatry lecturer at the Yale University of Medicine, has launched an online resource targeted at would-be killers — a demographic he hopes he can reach before they act on their violent “cravings.” Named SavingCain.org, after the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the site offers resources for potential killers, including crisis hotlines, motivational stories, and even links to suicide prevention websites.

“We’re aware of suicide prevention websites, but what about sites for people who are considering committing murder? Kimmel told The Daily Beast. “That’s something that needs to be corrected, to help dissuade them from taking that last, fatal step.”

A Personal Endeavor

Kimmel tells readers that his most important credential for creating the site is that he once “came very close to committing murder” himself. He recounts the story of his childhood in which he was both emotionally and physically bullied and harassed. The harassment reached a boiling point when a group of bullies shot and killed one of his dogs, and blew up his family mailbox. He recounts chasing after the group in a car, with his father’s loaded .32-caliber revolver at his side.

“I had a flash of realization that if I killed them, I’d be killing myself — either figuratively or literally, or both,” Kimmel told The Daily Beast. “I could see into my future. It was enough to make me go, ‘No, you’re just going to make it worse.’”

Kimmel later pursued a career in law and focused on getting justice for those who had been hurt, mistreated, or neglected. He knew what it felt like to feel rage, and this led him to create the Nonjustice System, a program that uses law and psychology in a 12-step recovery program with legal role-play, all the while encouraging those who feel wronged to avoid the temptation for revenge.

“I was filled with this desire for revenge,” Kimmel said, in reference to his own experiences. “This is where I sympathize a bit.”

After creating the Nonjustice System, Kimmel dove into research on the motivation to kill, using scientific studies to give SavingCain.org a brain-centered approach to the problem. But can neuroscience really help prevent mass murders before they happen?

A Moral Issue Or A Biological One?

“I do not believe that a person who considers murder is ‘evil,’” Kimmel writes on SavingCain.org.

He explains on the site that not long ago, alcohol and drug addiction were considered moral failings that, when gone unchecked, destroy the lives of those who are addicted and their loved ones. Now, we consider addiction a disease and have several avenues for treatment. A strong desire for justice (or what the killer perceives as justice) is the motive and cause of many murders, and Kimmel compares the feeling to that of a drug addict craving a high. The actual act of doling out “justice” could then be compared to a drug high itself. He points to the perpetrator of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College as an example. In one report, survivors said that the shooter smiled before firing on victims.

“It’s horrifying to think about,” Kimmel said. “The mind instantly wants to go, ‘He must be beyond evil. He was smiling as he was doing this.’ But science could indicate he was completely in the throes of addiction.”

Kimmel uses recent brain imaging studies to explain the link between seeking revenge and addiction. One study, for example, found that the dorsal-striatum, a part of the brain that processes pleasure and rewards from things like narcotics, sex, and good food, is activated when people inflict punishment on those they view as wrongdoers — a finding that was confirmed by a second study. Different research found that variations in genetic makeup affected how people experienced the pleasure of justice-seeking and punishment.

“The sobering fact is that humans get high from killing,” Kimmel said. “Because that craving is so strong, biologically we now think, it’s clearly analogous to craving for an addict.”

Could Resources Like Kimmel’s Really Help?

SavingCain is the first site of its kind, so there’s no way to know if the resource is capable of reaching would-be killers and discouraging them from their lethal path. Even if the site does have an impact, it will be difficult to measure. Experts say that either way, Kimmel’s site certainly won’t hurt.

Louis Schlesinger, forensic psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, called Kimmel’s site a “creative idea” that shouldn’t be dismissed.

“Many homicides are planned,” he told The Daily Beast. “People think about it for a long period of time before they act. Some are spontaneous, but there’s a lot who want to kill people and just toy with the idea. Maybe it will help these people.”


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