There is something terribly wrong going on in American schools today. A silent epidemic is spreading throughout the country like a cancer. What does it say about a society when children and adolescents can get their hands on military grade weapons, somehow get them into their schools and gun down dozens of fellow classmates and teachers? Where are all the scientists (CDC, think tanks, privately funded research firms) and why aren’t they screaming from the top of the roofs about the dangers of such a phenomenon becoming “normalized”? When we step back and take a sobering look at the facts, we will find that we are closer to normalizing such behavior than we actually realize. Without a doubt, these horrific acts are becoming more frequent.
Some sources claim that America’s problem with school shootings is not unique. And then there are those that claim school shootings in America are unique in very specific ways. A few years ago, the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis collected dated on this phenomenon around the world. In order to reflect only for school shootings, certain types of gun violence were excluded from the data. Incidents involving single homicides, off-campus homicides, killing by government action, militaries, terrorists or militants were not included. They found that for the decade of 2000 – 2010, there were 57 incidents in 36 countries. More important, 50% of those incidents were in the U.S. and at least 13 of the countries surveyed never suffered an incident. Another study claims that school violence is much more likely to be carried out using a gun. In the study, China (with the second largest number of incidents) experienced 10 mass killings but none involved firearms. Also, Germany saw three mass shootings and Finland had two of them. Another 13 countries experienced at least one incident of someone being wounded or killed – the rest reported no one injured.
When we examine the history of this phenomenon, we find that this type of violence has a long history in the U.S. It seems that school violence of one sort or another has been happening since the 1920s. For example, in May 1927, Andrew Kehoe set off a bomb at the Bath Consolidated Schoolhouse killing himself, 6 adults, and 38 children. Then in 1959, Paul Oregon exploded a suitcase of dynamite on a school playground killing himself, 2 adults and 3 children. In 1966, 15-year old David Black kills his teacher at the Grand Rapids, MN Grand Rapids High School. And then, there was the 1974 incident at Olean High School where honors student Anthony Barbaro kills the high school janitor and 2 passers. However, starting in March 1975, school violence takes an unusual turn – it becomes specifically “gun violence.” Subsequently, there were incidents in 1979, ‘82, ‘83, 84, ‘85, ‘86, ‘87, ‘88, ‘89, and ‘92. Then in 1993, the U.S. began to experience several such attacks in a single year. Thereafter, we would see a series of mass shooting each year in ‘’1993, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, and ‘98.
Some researchers believe that the Columbine Massacre in Colorado (1999) was unique in that it established a framework or blueprint, if you will, for mass shootings in schools. Beginning with Columbine in 1999, at least 187,000 students attending 193 primary and secondary schools have experienced a shooting in school during school hours according to a year-long study by the Washington Post. Also, the Post found that since Columbine, an average of 10 school shootings per year occur with 11 school shootings so far in 2018. Further, school shootings have occurred in 36 states and the District of Columbia. It happens in big cities, small towns, affluent suburbs and rural communities. Five months before the massacre at Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold proclaimed in a journal that they had guns. The most important, and deadliest, was a high-point 9mm carbine rifle with over 250 rounds of ammunition. Also, Nicholas Cruz, seven months before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre displayed with a photo on Instagram a bed covered with firearms including his AR-15 rifle. Now, a whole generation of school shooters aspire to kill as many people as Harris, Klebold, and Cruz and they choose to use extraordinarily deadly weapons to do it.
Over the past decade, there have been researchers looking into the sociological reasons why targeted school shootings have become a distinct type of violence in America. Researchers Bryan Warnick, Sang Hyun Kim, and Shannon Robinson have examined some of the social reasons that contribute to this phenomenon. Their research found three distinct factors. First, schools are places of real and symbolic violence where force and power politics dominate the environment. Second, schools are places where expectations of hope and refuge, friendship and romance, are played out each day. In those instances where the desired outcome is not met, bitter resentment follows. And finally, suburban schools are seen as places of “expressed individualism” which in some cases is misinterpreted as a place for “expressive violence.” As a result, for some youth, schools become a sounding board for “attention” and a place to express violent “intentions.”
The president of the American Psychological Association Jessica Henderson has gone on record stating that framing the debate about gun violence only in terms of mental illness unfairly stigmatizes many others with some sort of mental illness. Moreover, she stated that it fails to direct us toward appropriate solutions to the crisis. Unfortunately, identifying real solutions has been extremely difficult in part because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped studying gun violence 22 years ago. Apparently, the Republican-led Congress mandated that no CDC funds “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” There is something seriously wrong with failing to study this phenomenon as evidenced by four decades of gun violence and death in American schools.
Erickson, A. (2018). The One Number that shows America’s problem with School Shootings is Unique. Washington Post. retrieved: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/15/the-one-number-that-shows-americas-problem-with-school-shootings-is-unique/?utm_term=.aca7ce918807; CNN Library. (2018). retrieved: https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/19/us/u-s-school-violence-fast-facts/index.html; John Woodrow Cox, Steven Rich, Allyson Chiu, Alex Horton and Jennifer Jenkins. (2018) Scarred by school shootings. Washington Post. retrieved https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/us-school-shootings-history/?utm_term=.2429495987d1; Wiley Online Library. (2015). Gun Violence and the meaning of American Schools. Wiley Online Library. retrieved: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/edth.12122.