Why do School Shootings Happen?
March 09, 2012
Topics: School Violence;
School shootings feel more shocking and more tragic than other kinds of shootings. In the U.S. there are numerous fatal shootings every day. Our big cities see so much violence that the reports are simply added to the nightly news without any particular urgency or surprise. In general, when a murder occurs, people assume it was committed within a dysfunctional family, or was drug related. Nobody asks why it happened because we just assume that murders happen sometimes.
When school shootings happen, the country drops everything and focuses on the victims and the shooter, searching for answers. There are many schools of thought on why school shootings happen. Let’s look at a few of them.
One of the more popular beliefs is that the shooter must have been bullied, and took out his revenge by shooting. This idea has been common for a long time, but became the dominant paradigm after a shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The two shooters had each been bullied frequently by various classmates, and committed suicide after killing 12 students and one teacher. Because of their suicides, it was impossible to determine exactly why they killed their classmates, but it was generally assumed that bullying was the cause.
Another explanation that emerged from this shooting was that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the shooters) were intentionally targeting Christians based on the influence of Goth culture, which both of them had embraced at various times in their lives. This explanation came from numerous witnesses who attested that most of the victims were known Christians.
The 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University in which Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people before killing himself also offers clues into the mind of school shooter. Cho left a long suicide note and mailed a package of information to the media related to his shooting. These items became an abundant source of information into his psychology and indicated a strong hatred for rich people and capitalism. His manifesto also indicated that he regarded himself as God, having the power to give and take life. He also mailed a series of photographs of himself posing with knives and guns, similar to the way movies posters are made. Some people believe he wanted to make a name for himself and end his life in the most dramatic way possible, while getting on TV around the world.
Another possibility is simply that violence is random and unpredictable. In a nation with over 300 million people it is inevitable that some of them will occasionally commit murder, and that some of them will choose to do so in a school setting. This explanation is probably the least satisfying and the most disconcerting, because it does not offer a solution nor does it offer any warning signs.
The shooting in Chardon High School in Ohio may offer more clues. The shooter, T.J. Lane, did not commit suicide after the rampage, and is currently awaiting trial. If the lawyers allow him to testify we may be able to gain additional insight into the mind of a school shooter.
Other explanations for shootings include exposure to violent video games and movies, violence in the family, drug problems, and mental illness. What do you think?