Causes of school shootings in America
School shootings in America
“Gun violence is a public health crisis that claims lives every day.” These were the words from a statement by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitman after a shooting at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021, that killed four students. While mass shootings are a significant problem, this becomes even more profound considering the number of school shootings in America. The shooting at Oxford High School is only one of the 222 school shootings in 2021 alone, indicating the highest incidence of this problem. When such events occur, questions arise, and debates emerge on who is to blame or what would have been done differently, but no significant change is ever pursued.
As the world deals with the covid-19 pandemic, America has to address the crisis of school shootings again. For how long will parents lose their children from such unfortunate events? Are responsible individuals and authorities doing enough? What is the source of the problem, and what is the most effective response? These are recurring questions, but the answers may not be easily found in the complex web of social-political issues around the guns control debate in America.
Prevalence of school shootings in the United States
On July 26, 1764, four American Indians entered a school in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, where they shot a killed nine pupils and the schoolmaster. The event is one of the earliest recorded school shooting incidences in America. Although not much is on record regarding such incidents in the previous centuries, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) has maintained the K-12 School Shooting Database since 1970. As the figure below projects, the incidences have been rising and falling with 2021, indicating the highest rate of school shootings.
Incidents of mass shootings
Such statistics point to the existence of a problem and the need to adopt effective measures. The 2021 school year suffered the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, such that students spent a substantial amount of time at home or schooled via virtual means. Despite the limited time within the school setting, the year has had the highest school-related shootings. In September, when students were reporting back to school, there were 151 school shooting threats, up from an average of 29 in three years (Densley & Peterson, 2021). Compared to the previous year, the school shootings in September were more than double.
Could the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic be an influencing factor in the prevalence of the problem? As will be discussed further on, mental health issues play a part in the emergence of such behaviour. With the covid pandemic affecting the mental wellbeing of individuals, one cannot negate the likely impact of such pressures on poor decision making that leads to school shootings.
Factors influencing gun violence in institutions
- Gun legislation and public administration failure
Children have access to guns due to their abundance and the lack of effective policies that control usage. Gun legislation remains the biggest challenge to dealing with school shooting incidences that have been prevalent in the past few years. After every shooting incident, public debate emerges on the best course of action, but no concrete action is taken towards gun legislation. An element of the discourse on gun legislation is the polarized response by different interest groups. An example is that while gun rights activists such as the NRA points to the need for more guns to protect Americans, gun control activists urge Congress to ensure gun control and limit access to guns.
For public administration officials at the federal and state level, the NRA has been a significant impediment in coming up with legislation on gun control. The group spends millions of dollars annually in activism against gun legislation. Some of the actions include bribing politicians, funding their campaigns, and instigating propaganda. The indecisiveness from the public administration and efforts from groups such as NRA impede the adoption of gun legislation that would control access to weapons by the public and school going kids.
- Mental health issues
The perpetrators of school shootings are largely current or former students well known to the victims. In a report by Paolini (2015), 41% of perpetrators are mainstream students, and 78% had suicidal attempts in the past or suicidal ideation. Research is rife with evidence that the majority of the shooters suffer from some mental health problems. Traumatized shooters often come from dysfunctional homes or have had exposure to criminal behaviour and substance abuse. Beyond this, some shooters point to the fact that they have been victims of bullying in the past, and their actions seek revenge. From such elements, mental health issues emerge as factors influencing the prevalence of school shootings.
Since the onset of the covid pandemic, there have been links between the crisis and increased mental health concerns. More individuals are suffering from anxiety and depressive disorder that leads to alcohol and substances abuse. Students and young adults are equally feeling the pressures of the pandemic and hence also suffer from mental health issues. The exacerbating effect of the pandemic on mental wellbeing may explain the increase in school shootings within September.
Educators and authorities are doing little to address the problem, even with the knowledge of such mental health issues and their impacts. After the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, studies by the FBI and the Secret Service established the need for schools to adopt a behavioural threat assessment approach. School and community commitment to such approaches have been minimal, as evidenced by the rise in school shootings resulting from mental health issues.
What to do
While blame for school shootings can be directed to various parties, there is a need for proactive action in dealing with the problem. The federal and state administrations have to pursue legislation and programs that guarantee the safety of children as they seek education. Parents and educators have a role to play in thwarting negative outcomes through effective interventions in the developmental phase of children. Ultimately, the country needs to move from debates and pursue concrete action to alleviate this pandemic.
Center for Homeland Defense and Security. (2021). K-12 School Shooting Database. https://www.chds.us/ssdb/view-chart/?chartid=8
Densley, J., & Peterson, J. (2021). School shootings are at a record high this year – but they can be prevented. https://theconversation.com/school-shootings-are-at-a-record-high-this-year-but-they-can-be-prevented-173027
Paolini, A. (2015). School Shootings and Student Mental Health: Role of the School Counselor in Mitigating Violence. https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/school-shootings-and-student-mental-health.p