The increased number of school shooting incidents in America during the last two decades has gained public attention. Authorities are very much concerned regarding how to control these tragic incidents in the schools of different states. These shootings in schools conducted by adults or juveniles; have created an impression that schools are not a safe place for students.
However, in reality the situation is not that dangerous as perceived by public and most of the schools have been greatly successful in keeping their students safe. In contrast, many of the schools do face serious problems due to school shootings; which need to follow the effective evidence-based strategies in order to keep their schools safe and free from violence.
Why will an adult or juvenile bring a weapon to school or open fire on his colleagues and teachers? Are these adults and juveniles angry or have any psychiatric problem? Do they want attention? Are they frustrated or simply want to take revenge?
These are the questions that are very complex to answer. Different thinkers, psychologists and sociologists have answered them in different ways but there is not a single reason that can be considered as the cause of school shootings.
A committee of National Research Council performed a case study in 2001 in which six school shooting incidents were considered. It was accomplished in the study that it is impossible to "reach firm scientific conclusions" (Moore, Petrie, Braga, & McLaughlin, 2003, p. 3).
Statistics show that in the past several years, there have been many deadly shootings incidents in schools of Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio that resulted in deaths and injuries of students and teachers. Therefore, this problem has become an important issue for rural, urban as well as suburban communities of United States. Since 1992, more than 40 schools have faced the situations of multiple shootings; most of which never imagined that it could happen there.
If we look at the history of school shootings, we find several cases in which adults and juveniles behaved abnormally by conducting shootings in school. For instance, United States was shaken in 1997; when surprisingly only a 16 years old student at Mississippi killed his mother and moved to school where he targeted another nine students. Two students died in this tragic incident and others were badly injured.
Another sad incident of school violence in United States took place in same year when a 14 years old boy started shooting in a student's prayer area. Three students were killed in this accident and five severely injured. Similarly, there is a long list of tragic accidents in schools of United States that resulted due to the delinquency and violent behaviors of adults and juveniles which lead to killings.
If we look at the current figures; than the school shootings and multiple victim homicides are very fewer in number as violence has been declined in last few years. Threats, harassments and conflicts do happen but school shootings by adults and juveniles have been controlled to a greater extent. However, even today many students and teachers fear when stepping into school and their fearful attitude makes it difficult for school administration to create a positive learning environment in the school.
Looking at this condition, it is very important to explore and understand the school shootings problem as it is a very serious issue that needs to be resolved. This paper will review in detail the causes of shootings by adults and juveniles in schools of United States, explore the criminology theories, examine empirical evidences of school violence and suggest evidence-based practices for resolving the school shootings.
Extent of School Shootings in the United States
Rates of school-associated student homicides decreased between 1992 and 2006. However, they have remained relatively stable in recent years. Rates were significantly higher for males, students in secondary schools, and students in central cities. Following are some of the important findings that were listed by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in their 2010 fact sheet (CDC, 2010).
1. Around 116 students were killed in 109 different incidents in the schools of United States.
2. The rate of shootings and murders declined the period of 1992 -- 2006 but this rate has remained stable in the last few years. This rate was higher in case of males of secondary schools and also in the students of that studied in the central parts of the cities.
3. Most of the deaths due to school shootings took place before or after school hours and also during lunch time.
4. Shootings were also more common at the beginning of the new semester.
5. Around 50% of the attackers gave a warning, sign or threat before shooting.
Understanding the School Shooting Problem
As stated above, this issue of shootings and killings in schools by adults and juvenile criminals has gained very much importance in recent years. Many people believe that homicides that are committed by adults and juveniles are increasing day by day. According to the report of National School Safety and Security Services, the rate of deaths that occur due to school violence have declined from 1999 till present; except year 2003 -- 2004 when the rate showed an increase (National School Safety and Security Services, 2009).
The violence and shooting trend declined in last decade but is stable since last few years. Therefore it is very important to find out the problem that leads to such violent acts in schools and acknowledge it to schools and families who might be at a very high risk of facing a difficult time.
According to National Centre for Children Exposed to Violence (2006), the problem of school crime, violence and shooting should not be considered as a single problem. It is true that these events are interlinked but they cannot be viewed as a singular problem having same causes and solutions. Fifteen years back, Zimring and Hawkins (1997) also stated that crime and violence in communities are two separate problems and it is very crucial to understand the differences between them. Therefore, it is important to find out from where these school going students learn the criminal behavior. In order to understand this, it is necessary to have a look at the following three criminal sociology theories.
1. Differential Association
2. Social Control
Differential Association Theory
This theory given by Edwin Sutherland gives the idea that the criminal behavior does not develop its self but individuals learn it from the social environments (Sutherland, 1939). This means that the adults or juveniles who commit school shootings actually take this idea from the gatherings of individuals with whom they interact. Therefore, it can be concluded from this theory that criminal behavior for school shootings can be learned by others.
Social Control Theory
According to Social Control Theory, sociological variables like family structures, schoolings and peer groups are the main causes behind the delinquency and criminal behavior. Travis Hirschi explains this concept by explaining that unusual and abnormal behavior can be prevented by many mutual restraints (Hirschi, 1969). Hirschi further stated that one key reason behind these shootings by juveniles is their unstable relationship with their families that results in formation of strong and abnormal relationships of these individuals with the society.
Heckle and Shumaker identified eight familial factors (2001), which are affiliated with the profile of juvenile killers. These factors are; sexual abuse, physical abuse, parental drug or alcohol abuse, absence of a father, instable caretaker, parental criminal background, violence in home and parental psychiatric history.
This theory was introduced by Emile Durkheim and according to this theory; the general rules of behaving in a society are forgotten by people and they do not know what to expect from each other (Durkheim, 1983). This theory further states that the juveniles, who commit shootings in schools, have a feeling of normlessness in their society so they do acts of violence.
Research Evidence on School Shootings
There are several reports that describe the shootings at school by adults and juveniles in United States. The criteria used for identifying the cases, methods and findings in these reports are different and vary according to the type of study conducted. However, most of the studies consist of qualitative or descriptive analysis using small samples of cases (McGee & DeBernardo, 1999; Meloy, Hempel, Mohandie, Shive, & Gray, 2001).
Two very significant studies of schools shootings were performed by the U.S. Secret Service & U.S. Department of Education (Vossekuil et al., 2002) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (O'Toole, 2000). These two studies are considered important because these discouraged to draw the profile of individuals who did shootings at school and argued on the use of warning signs and putting check lists. In contrast to these steps, these divert attention towards threat assessment as a prevention strategy.
In order to perform the Federal Bureau of Investigation study (O' Toole, 2000); a five days conference was arranged in 1999. A total of 160 different professionals…