On Tuesday, April 20th, 1999, yet another small, suburban town joined the ranks of astonished communities to be touched by seemingly mindless violence. In Littleton, Colorado, at Columbine High School, 15 people were killed in the deadliest school rampage on record in the United States. Of the 15 dead, 2 were the murderers themselves, who apparently were on a suicide mission, and decided to take as many people with them as they could.
According to an article entitled “Violence a Quick Answer” by Michelle Locke of the Associated Press in the April 22nd edition of The Stars and Stripes, the events at Columbine High School unfolded in a way that is becoming more and more familiar in rural and suburban areas throughout the United States. The obvious question to ask is “Why is this happening? ”. Unfortunately, social scientists and researchers all seem to point the finger at many different causes for this type of behavior.
A lack of parental supervision, access to guns, parents who are too permissive or are absent, school officials who fail to do anything when warning signs are exhibited, and of course, kids growing up in a culture that is saturated with violence, all top the list. According to Bill Reisman, a criminologist who has advised school officials from areas where this type of violence has occurred, “These kids have never learned how to solve problems.
They have an instant answer, and that’s a gun”. He also states more and more that these types of tragedies are becoming suicide missions, and that, “Most of them believe that death is now the solution, and in order to get the maximum amount of attention, they do these bizarre, heinous crimes”. This thinking seems to be in line with an article from the American Psychological Association regarding school shootings.
It states that the youths involved often seem to be “driven by an intense need for attention” and while urban youth tends to carry guns to gain power, seek revenge, or simply protect themselves, “the murderers in these recent, rural incidents seem to be more interested in gaining national notoriety”. i The Stars and Stripes article goes on to say that the negative influences in society, namely violent movies and music, can certainly add “fuel to the fire”, but that we can’t blame these things, because people are responsible for what they do.
Further more, lying under all the negative societal influence, is the fact that family and community ties are “unraveling”. Bill Reisman says, “It used to be when I was a kid, if I did something wrong down the street, before I got home, that neighbor would have called my parents. These days, they’re afraid they’re going to get sued”. Peter Blauvelt, president of the National Alliance for Safe Schools, says it’s nearly impossible to find immediate answers to a tragedy like the recent shootings in Colorado. “I think one of the things we are suffering from is trying to rationalize what was really an irrational act”.
However, although there is limited empirical data to go on, psychologists have found some distinguishing characteristics of rural youth murderers from these types of events over the last year. These adolescents tend to: Kill and injure multiple victims in a single incident. The perpetrators don’t target only an individual as part of some interpersonal dispute (although sometimes an ex-girlfriend is among those killed), but seem to launch a shooting spree that results in many deaths and injuries. Have no secondary criminal motive, such as robbery. The primary goal is to kill or harm others. Be younger.
Statistically, most youth murderers are 15 or older. Have a history of social problems. The phenomenon of rejection contributes to their increased aggressiveness over time. ii In this latest school shooting, the gunmen apparently belonged to a group of outcasts who wore black trench coats, and spoke openly about owning guns, and their dislike of minorities and athletes. According to an MSNBC news article, classmates said that this incident was foreshadowed by several videos the gunmen made last fall for a class, in which “they had their friends pretend to be the jocks and they pretended to be the gunmen shooting them”.
The Stars and Stripes article goes on to conclude that due to this type of behavior becoming more common, we can expect to see a lot more incidents of this nature. The advice to school officials is to pay attention, and look for the warning signs. It certainly seems as though the school officials and teachers at Columbine High School should’ve been aware that something of this nature was at least possible. Open hatred, trench coats, swastikas, and brazen discussion of guns are undoubtedly warning enough that you have a potential problem on your hands.
As a society, I believe that we must stop looking for scapegoats as to what is wrong with our youth. It isn’t just movies and video games; it isn’t simply violent television shows that drive a person to do this. If it were, we would ALL be running around killing each other. We need to look at ourselves to find the solution. As parents, teachers, neighbors, we are all responsible for what happened in Colorado on Tuesday morning. We need to discipline our children and teach them right from wrong. We need to teach them how to act within society, and to be responsible members of that society.
If we are unable to do that, then I believe that not only will this type of behavior continue, but will indeed get worse. If norms are truly the rules of behavior that are agreed upon and shared within a culture that prescribe limits of acceptable behavioriv, then we need to reinvent what is acceptable in our society. We need to make the justice system work again, so that criminals will look at the consequences of their actions BEFORE they commit a crime. We need effective deterrents such as a swift death penalty, or REAL hard time for criminals, otherwise, social deviance will only continue to worsen.