School Shootings

In the last half of the 1990s, the United States experienced a new form of violence in the form of school shootings by teenage boys. There were nine incidents between 1994 and 1998, representing "the first mass murders by children in this nation's history" (Murray, 1998). About a year later, in April 1999, the trend culminated in the shootings at Columbine High. Two students brought three guns and more than 60 bombs into Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. A diary left behind showed that they intended to blow up the whole school then hijack a plane and crash it into downtown New York. They never made it out of the school, but they shot to death 13 students, including themselves.

How is the comparison to Japan instructive?

Media commentators were quick to point out that the Columbine High gunmen were fans of the videogame Doom. However, violent videogames are just as popular in Japan as they are in the United States. Japan has a very low murder rate and no reports of gun violence in schools, so it is difficult to argue that videogames are to blame for school shootings.

What are some likely explanations for school shootings?

More likely explanations for school shootings are the psychological problems of the shooters, the easy availability of guns in America, and especially families who fail to respond to obvious signs of trouble. One of the Columbine shooters had a sawed-off shotgun barrel in plain sight on his bedroom dresser. Both were known to meet in a garage where they spoke German and gave Nazi salutes to portraits of Hitler. The parents somehow remained oblivious to this or did not take it seriously.

What are characteristics of adolescents who carry out school shootings?

Adolescents involved in school shootings tend to kill and injure multiple people in a single incident (although sometimes an ex-girlfriend or known tormentor is among the victims). The shooters are invariably males, as young as 14, with a history of social problems (Sleek, 1998). These individuals seem to be motivated by social rejection and an urge to strike back at their perceived tormentors. They are also aware of the intense media attention devoted to such incidents and may crave the attention or the notoriety.


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