Criminals Think Differently – Understand Them & Remain Armed

By Col. Ben Findley

Criminals Think Differently- Understand Them and Be Prepared
Criminals Think Differently- Understand Them and Be Prepared
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

USA -( In the past year or so, eight terrible mass shooting events have been reported in the U.S., with 99 people killed and 131 seriously injured.

Just last month the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history left 50 people dead and 53 wounded in an Orlando nightclub. The shooter had declared allegiance to the radical Islamic State. There are others not as dramatized or reported involving others killed or wounded.

Places like the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA, the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR, the Military Recruiting Center and Navy-Marine Training Facility in Chattanooga, TN, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, University of California-Santa Barbara community in Isla Vista, CA, the Fort Hood military post in Killeen, TX, and, sadly, the list goes on and on. It is very upsetting and frustrating to understand and deal with these terrible tragedies. Most were the deranged murders by psychotic killers and some were related to terrorism. At some point, we have to ask ourselves what we can do as individuals to deal with these events or help prepare for them. Aside from taking a handgun training class, getting our concealed carry license, and practicing, we should try to avoid them. While without a doubt avoiding them is the very best option, sometimes we cannot do that and are caught up in everyday living and places where we must be and things we must do or experience, like going to church, attending school, participating in community activities, having fun at a party or concert, or just going to work. Well, it would help all of us if we could take a little time to better understand the criminal mind of a psychotic sociopath or psychopath, especially before we are ever faced with these dangerous individuals in a deadly-force confrontation.

Mental Gun Health
These senseless illogical murders were not random violent shooting acts, but for the most part were the deranged killings of a psychopath criminal.

As several forensic psychologists and criminologists have said about most of these tragedies, we are in a new world today and evil people act out their rage by doing violent irrational things, like killing even elementary-aged children, innocent people, their own parents and family members. These senseless illogical murders were not random violent shooting acts, but for the most part were the deranged killings of a psychopath criminal who purposely planned these goal-directed acts in advance or an emotionally immature and irresponsible sociopath.

We should try to understand criminals and their potentially violent, irrational criminal mindsets to help deter these heinous actions and to promote healthy relationships, as well as guide us in choosing our responses to deadly and non-deadly force encounters. To deal with their behaviors and effectively make our decisions, we should know the differences between a psychopath and a sociopath criminal. Some are not mentally ill per the usual definitions, but both are capable of violent behaviors. Understand that there are some “psychotic” folks out there. A “psychotic” person suffers a break from reality with delusions that impair functioning. This is different from a psychopath.

Psychopaths are not mentally disabled and usually do NOT lose contact with reality. This is complex and involves much medical expertise, so be careful with your conclusions and stereotyping. This is just a generalized summary to help us lay people. Understand that I am not a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or even close to understanding these conditions. I just want to help with a broad, baseline understanding. What are some of the common criminal antisocial behavioral traits of both psychopaths and sociopaths? The American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition- 2013) gives some generalized, common traits.

Common Behavioral Traits of Antisocial Criminals:

  1. Disregard for laws and social mores;
  2. Disregard for the rights of others;
  3. Failure to feel remorse or guilt;
  4. Motivated by self-centered greed or revenge to commit crimes;
  5. Tendency to display violent behavior.


  1. No sense of responsibility;
  2. Emotionally immature with excessive risk taking;
  3. Easily agitated & volatile- highly impulsive & erratic;
  4. Capable of empathy and relationships;
  5. Commit haphazard, spontaneous & violent crimes, like murder;
  6. Self-centered priorities; form attachment to like-minded group & exhibit violence for the cause, with little regard for the consequences of their actions.


  1. Very manipulative & easily gain people’s trust; believe they are smarter & more powerful than they really are;
  2. Appear “normal” to unsuspecting people;
  3. Are calm, cool, controlled, meticulous & carefully plan details in advance;
  4. Lack empathy, morality, & concern for others- incapable of lasting loving relationships;
  5. Dissociate emotionally from their actions- are unremorseful without guilt because of allegiances;
  6. Often commit crimes for the thrill- lie, steal & murder (e.g. serial killers)

Always recognize that GUNS do not kill people, but rather deranged PEOPLE kill others through their usually conscious and negative irrational efforts to use the weapon in an evil way.

The gun is merely a tool, like a spoon, shovel, knife, piano, or baseball bat is a tool. In the hands of some, tools can be an advantage, helpful, good, and beneficial, but the same tool in the hands of a deranged, unhealthy person can be a disadvantage, bad, and a dangerous weapon, used to harm or kill others if they so choose. We must understand and change peoples’ hearts and minds, up front if possible, because if someone intends to do damage they will find a way and use any kind of weapon to do it or turn a common tool into a weapon for evil purposes. I learned this as a military Psychological Ops officer planning and implementing some related strategies and tactics to understand, deter and deal with violence in Vietnam. See my 1996 book “Psychological Operations Principles and Case Studies” published by the Department of Defense’s Air University Press. Remember, laws do not really change hearts and minds nor dedicated evil intent.

It is scary to realize that complying with a robber’s demand does not necessarily guarantee your safety and avoidance of being harmed. This is a very precarious situation to find yourself in, knowing that compliance and cooperation can still cause you harm. Be very, very careful with your shoot or no shoot decision. This can easily be a no-win situation. So try to AVOID getting into these predicaments. Don’t frequent places where this deranged person does; don’t associate with them and AVOID them. Difficult to do, but so necessary if possible. Criminals can be dangerous, even if the encounter appears to initially be only a robbery of property. Criminals think differently and are motivated by their selfish interests and allegiances.

Understand the Criminal Mind

It is very important for us to understand the criminal mindset, their motivations and behaviors, as well as our own goals, priorities, motivations, skills, and behaviors for critical decisions we must make in an unplanned encounter. It is important to think ahead and anticipate such possible encounters and our range of choices for responding to a particular situation, as much as this is possible. Of course, it is not possible to anticipate all possible assaults, encounters and situations, but generally we must decide ahead if we have the mindset for shooting someone, IF they threaten our life or can cause us serious bodily harm. No one can tell you how to respond or what to do in any specific scenario you might be involved with, but your situational awareness of the particular elements (e.g. the criminal behaviors) in any unique situation is key. Of course, this awareness will help us leave and AVOID many of these situations and is of paramount importance. That is NOT a reflection of our power, strength or weakness, or gun-handling skills, but rather our rational, logical thinking approach. We are not trying to prove anything to anyone or be the policeman for society. Rather, it is a recognition of our survival goal for ourselves and our family members and our priorities. The old cost-benefit analysis. Once we understand our personal mindset and survivability goal, our willingness to respond in the face of a deadly threat and related legal parameters, and the choices we might have (including avoidance, non-escalation, retreat, and non-lethal responses as appropriate), it is then important to understand the mindset of the violent criminal and their motivations and behaviors.

Understand the Criminal Mind
Understand the Criminal Mind

Dr. Stanton Samenow, a renowned criminal behavior psychologist, author and researcher, has interviewed, studied, and offered his professional interpretations and conclusions about the nature of the criminal mind. In essence, he concludes that the different manifestations of criminal behavior are just a matter of style and the extreme selfishness and lack of concern and empathy for others by the criminal, with self-gratification being their top, if not sole, priority. In one of his books, he stated that the criminal shuts off empathy and sentiment just like someone flips off a light switch. Sentiment and savage brutality reside side-by-side in the same individual and one has no bearing on the other. He gives some interesting comments in his interviews with violent criminals.

One criminal who committed rape and other violent crimes said “I can change from tears to ice and back again.”

This individual had a soft spot for animals and would nurse an injured dog to health. He would become teary eyed during movies that were sentimental and attended church frequently. When it came to his intended victims, however, there was no empathy or sentiment. Dr. Samenow also recalled the murderer who refused to step on an insect because he “didn’t want to kill anything living.” Yet, he would snuff out a person’s life without a second thought.

Most people have no idea of how totally foreign it is for a criminal to put himself in the place of another person. A very large number of criminals see the world as a chessboard with people and objects being like pawns for him to maneuver at will and Dr. Samenow refers to this as a “sense of entitlement.” He says it goes beyond that, since the criminal does not regard a victim as a victim. Instead, with his selfish mindset he sees himself as the victim, because now he is in trouble and faces a possible penalty.

Criminals Think In Selfish All Or Nothing Terms

Criminals think in such selfish all or nothing terms because believing themselves omniscient and knowing everything, they sense no need to evaluate a situation at any length (unless casing out a place to commit a crime). For the criminal mind, just thinking something makes it so. If a person is certain of his omniscience and infallibility, he has no reason to engage in the rational mental processes that are necessary for making decisions, like defining the problem, establishing a realistic objective, suspending judgment, gathering facts, evaluating alternatives, and selecting a rational, thought-out solution. If criminals want something, they obtain it very quickly, one way or the other without rational decision-making and concern for their victims. As Samenow reasons: “This all-or-nothing selfish thinking invariably leads to the criminal constantly experiencing frustration, disappointment, and anger at a world that does not give him what he thinks he is due.” He experiences life on the spur of the moment, basing what he does on the expectation that he is absolutely correct and that others will do whatever he wants. Without empathy and failing to take other people’s needs and wishes into account, the criminal constantly encounters barriers to his plans. This threatens his view that he knows everything, that he is in control, and that others will agree to his demands. For the criminal mind, the opposite of winning and affirmation, is loss and degradation, without any middle ground. Thus having almost all peaks and valleys in his emotions and behaviors is the criminal’s selfish response to his own unrealistic view of himself and others, rather than a mere bipolar illness.

Crime Is An Amusement

Assaults, bullying, and attacks occur for a criminal’s amusement or self-gratification. He builds himself up by tearing others down says Samenow. He reports that a man in jail told him that he thought he could do anything he wanted to another inmate with impunity. He honed in on what he considered the man’s fear, his reticence to stand up for himself, and then did whatever he pleased including secretly urinating in the man’s water cup. The more terrified his cellmate was, the greater the contempt for him that the perpetrator had. It is very difficult for non-criminal, non-violent citizens to understand this irrational criminal mindset, yet alone begin to plan and organize a possible rational response among our choices for dealing with it… rationality meets irrationality. As Dr. Samenow explains.

Mental Health and Guns
Criminals Think In Selfish All Or Nothing Terms

For the criminal, being in charge is integral to his self-image. Anything less than having complete control is not acceptable to him. Thus, he resorts to any means to achieve an end — deception, intimidation, or brute force. This is very different from a person working his way up the corporate ladder, excelling, then being appointed an executive on the merits of his work and leadership. The exercise of control is not for the executive’s own self-aggrandizement. As a leader, he inspires and motivates others and, as a result, the company as a whole wins, with a win-win result… not like the criminal’s win-lose predicament.

Recognize that robbery is primarily an irrational bullying crime against a person’s body and a control issue, rather than a crime against their property. So, a criminal who commits robbery is not the kind of person to whom anyone should expect rational decision making nor wish to trust with their life and safety. Unfortunately, rational compliance with a robber’s demands in the hope that they will decide not to inflict harm can be imprudent sometimes. However, deciding the proper option for your response is very difficult among complex, variable, and uncertain scenarios.

What a personal challenge, possible life-altering and difficult decision among too many subjective, dynamic, and situational alternatives! SUCCESS to all of us in our situational decision making.

The reality is that a criminal who is willing to engage in a violent crime such as robbery or home invasion, is not the kind of person with whom one will likely be able to reason with, or from whom empathy and compassion can be expected. Violent criminals have goals, value systems, priorities, attitudes, decision parameters, paradigms, and behaviors different from the vast majority of citizens. Compliance with such a violent criminals’ demands does not guarantee safety. Indeed, those who engage in crimes of violence are often drug users seeking funds to feed their addiction, and when lacking their drug may be unpredictable and irrational. Still other criminals have sexual assault or other violence as their primary goal, with robbery as a secondary goal, making cooperation with the criminal’s demands for property uncertain and your response confusing and possibly ineffective.

Law-abiding, rational armed citizens can try to save themselves from violent crime encounters and also save other would-be victims by understanding the criminal mindset and deterring criminals from victimizing others in the future. AVOIDANCE is a key option. Recognize the telltale signs of a self-centered sociopath and a deranged psychopath. Consider getting training in the fundamentals of firearms safety and shooting, then get your Concealed Carry Weapon License for self-defense, and learn when and when not to shoot. Then practice…. and practice… and don’t forget to Practice!

Be Safe & Understand the Situation!


Photos by Arteram-stockxchng.

Note: This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and a certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2016 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].

Col Benjamin Findley
Col Benjamin Findley

About Ben Findley:

“Col Ben” is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services Special Ops duty and training, and is Air Force qualified as “Expert” in small arms. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor. Ben recently wrote the book “Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection” with 57 comprehensive Chapters about concealed carry and handgun principles, techniques, and tips for both experienced and new shooters. His reference book is endorsed by several organizations and is available on his website at Contact him at [email protected].

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Randy Crawford

I know an MD who received medical training in Ohio from Dr. Michael Swango, medical murderer of dozens. I asked about Swango’s personality, and the response was that Swango was a very likeable, extroverted and pleasant guy to have around. Hitler’s guard corps felt the same way about Der Fuehrer , and we all know what a pleasant and friendly fellow Ted Bundy was. Keep your powder dry. Don’t believe everything you see, and even less of what you hear.


Stanton Samenow is one of the best authors on this subject. He knows his stuff!

Jack Patriot

You’ve got the traits of Psychopaths and Sociopaths reversed.

Color Ben

Thank you for your comment. I stand by article and information based on my research & studies. Sir are you professionally trained as a psychiatrist or have research or studies to support your claim? There are meaningful differences between a psychopath & sociopath, but they share many common behavioral traits.A professionally-trained psychiatrist can identify, study & treat them differently. Sociopaths are very spontaneous and phone to emotional outbursts. Psychopaths are manipulative and plan out details in advance of their crime. Psychopathy is mostly the result of genetics, while sociopaths is more likely the result of environment.It is difficult and dangerous… Read more »

Chuck Crosthwait

He’s right, the traits are transposed in your summary. Sociopaths, as the name suggests, understand the social pathology of individuals as they relate to groups.

And you don’t have to be a psychologist to have an understanding. The very nature of these general conditions make them difficult to differentiate but not difficult to understand from a logical standpoint.

Col Ben

The general traits of a sociopath and psychopath are directly referenced from the APA Manual from professional psychiatrists. There are overlaps and does not appear to be 100% agreement among them. Sadly, what is logical to one person (albeit a professional psychiatrist or an experienced shooter) is not logical for another. It would be nice if there really was “common sense” and a general body of logical and apparent knowledge that all possess. This is not the case, so there are different interpretations and misunderstandings, like is apparent over a list of general traits presented by a body of professional… Read more »


All that you say is true. But, to me, overthinking things can cause the reader to tune out. To simplify, Violent Criminals engage in “predatory behavior”. Their thinking is no different than any predatory animal. You have something they want. They believe that they can get what they want from you by threat, or by violence. Victims are chosen for this reason. To the predator easy victims are always best. What they want from you may be valuables, or forced sex (power), or just to dominate and terrify you. If it’s an act of terrorism, you become one of the… Read more »

Simon Templar

No one could have said it better. Thanks for the effort you put into this essay.

David Pizzoferrato

In reading the list of common traits of mental disorders, I couldn’t help thinking that I was reading Hillary’s resume’


And certainly Obama’s!!!

randy crawford

That’s also why she didn’t hesitate to butcher several of Chelsea’s brothers and sisters in abortion mills. They had Chelsea only because it occurred to Bill and Hillary that a kid would be a useful political gambit for trying to appear to be normal, and milking suckers for votes.