Research Report: School Shootings
Incidents of school shootings have been recorded in the United States since 1700’s. The 20th and the 21st century are especially notable because of the sharp increase of school shooting incidents in the U.S. Despite the previous occurrences of school shooting in the past, authorities recognize the huge gap in understanding such occurrences. Apparently, school shooting is quite a random incident of which “lie outside of specific crime issues such as terrorism, drug trafficking, gang activity, and domestic violence that have federal policies, law enforcement structures, and laws tailored in many instances to specifically address them”. Because of the numerous incidents of school shootings, policy makers and concerned parties are wondering how to combat such atrocities when no specific federal policies or law enforcement are available to set a certain guideline. For the same reason, this study will focus on gaining a deeper understanding on the instances of school shooting specifically in the United States and to determine the primary motivations of the shooters as well as examine if there are any similarities or patterns that can be observed in relation to the crime.
According to Muschert, there are five types of school shooting and each type varies in the type of perpetrator and the motivation. The first type of school shooting is rampage shooting wherein the perpetrator is a member, employee or someone who is affiliated with the educational institution and those who were formerly affiliated with the institution. The significance of rampage shooting incidents is that most of the perpetrators are not motivated by political activism or connected with organized terror groups. Even so, the extent of damage is somehow similar with terror activities in most respects and is even more troubling because of its unpredictable nature. Most common schools shooting incidents are considered as rampage shooting. Rampage shooting are “expressive, non-targeted attacks on a school institution” of which the shooter is commonly motivated by revenge. Mass murders are the second type of school shooting wherein the perpetrator is not a member or a former member of the institution. The motivation of mass murder is non-personal as it seek “symbolic significance”. Mass murder on the other hand is closely related with terrorism wherein the perpetrator belongs to a group that is politically or religiously motivated. Aside from mass murder and terrorist shooting on schools, one of the most common shooting crime perpetrated in schools are targeted shooting. Targeted shooting is just like rampage shooting wherein the motivation is revenge although it is more focused towards a certain person or a group. Lastly, school shootings can also be perpetrated by the law enforcement authority, which can occur during student riots or violent demonstrations. Among these types of school shooting incidences, more emphasis is given on rampage shooting because of its prevalence in contemporary cases. Rampage shooting incidents are often pre-meditated, which is tantamount to murder as in the case of Brenda Spencer, the first female rampage shooter in the U.S. Accordingly, “Spencer killed two people and wounded nine when she fired on San Diego's Grover Cleveland Elementary School with a .22-caliber rifle from her family's house across the street”. Despite being 16 years old when the crime was committed, Spencer was tried as an adult and pleads guilty for two counts of murder and assault with deadly weapon. The rampage shooter is often termed as the classroom avenger whose actions is staged on a public audience and is often committed by a member or a former member of the educational institution. In a way, rampage shooters are comparable to terror oriented perpetrators because of their passionate orientation although they differ in motivation since terrorists are motivated by political and religious factors while rampage shooters have their own personal motivations, which is mostly vindication and revenge. With regards to the demography of the perpetrators, the most common are young males with only a handful of female perpetrators. It is also notable that most of the perpetrators are white and at their teens; mostly juveniles.
Psychological Characteristics of Offender
Cases of rampage shooting such as the one that happened in Newtown wherein a number of innocent children were indiscriminately shot would lead society to think that perpetrators are not on their right frame of thoughts. It is only logical to think that people who are capable of doing such heinous crimes have psychological issues of some sort. Indeed, most perpetrators have troubled youths as their common psychological background and most are suffering from severe depression. Lanza, the shooter in Newtown, for example, grew up in a broken home and have been diagnosed for mental illness although he did not display aggressive or threatening tendencies. Accordingly, Lanza’s troubled youth and mental state deprived him of a normal social life wherein he eventually became a loner and began to distance himself from society. His female counterpart, Brenda Spencer, was also a product of a broken home. It was also revealed that Spencer have been physically and sexually abused by her father, which could have brought out psychological issues that led to her violent behavior. Rocque identifies three types of psychological characteristics common among school shooters. These are psychopathic, psychotic and traumatized shooters. Psychopathic shooters are those that do not feel any remorse for doing the incident and they lack emotional connection towards their fellow humans as well as themselves. Lanza may fall under this category since it was observed that he has autism and personality disorders and could not feel pain or emotions as normal people does. Psychotic shooters, on the other hand, suffer from a break with reality and is characterized by a feeling of being different. Psychotic shooters suffer from mental disorder that causes their abnormal thinking. Among the triggers of such mental state is the depression disorder that shooters may have experienced before perpetrating the incident. Traumatized shooters, on the other hand, are those that do the shooting with intense display of passion for vengeance or vindication. According to Rocque, this third type of shooter is a person who has experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Several cases of school shooting can be associated with the third type and it is also interesting to note that most offenders committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide after the incident of school shooting.
Theories Explaining the Origins of the Offending Behavior
Several theories have been laid in their attempt to analyze human behavior and what makes people commit crimes. The Social Learning Theory, for example, is an attempt to explain the causes of delinquency. This theory became the framework of modern criminology in explaining delinquent behavior in a macro level. The social learning theory has been developed by Ronald Akers and Robert Burgess in 1966 in their paper ‘A Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory of Criminal Behavior’. According to Akers, the commission or non-commission of crime depends on the “reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral and environmental determinants” (Bandura as cited in Akers, R. 2009). Akers as well as his principal influences such as renowned criminologists, Edwin Sutherland and B.F Skinner, believe that criminal behavior is learned through non-social and social interaction . Also, the urge to commit a crime is based on a person’s perception of the reward or punishment of his action. Unfortunately, these conventional methods in determining criminal behavior have little significance to the random and unpredictable nature of most school shooting perpetrators. This paper therefore, suggests a different theoretical framework that explains the tendency of people to kill indiscriminately such as what happens in most school shooting. As observed, most shooters have suicidal tendencies. Behavioral researchers theorize that there is a correlation between suicide and homicide. By analogy, it can be deduced that people who have suicidal tendencies are also capable of killing another. Several studies have been performed to determine the relationship between homicide and suicide. As observed, “the overall correlation between homicide and suicide rates was weak and statistically insignificant”; however, there could be a geographical correlation as European countries were found to be positive on correlation while Asia Pacific and Americas are negatively correlated. Basing on the psychological nature of school shooting incidents, it is likely that there is a strong relationship between suicidal tendencies and the tendency to shoot indiscriminately. As observed, 95% of people who commit suicide have mental disorders, which implies that these people are also at risk of homicidal tendencies. The psychological characteristics of perpetrators are also reflection of people who have suicidal tendencies. For one, people who are capable of committing suicide are most likely to isolate themselves from society. They also exhibit an increased tolerance to pain and a decreased fear of death, which is consistent with the psychopathic and psychotic types of shooters. It should be noted though that suicidal tendencies are triggered by depression, which is also triggered by unfortunate life events that may have shaped the psychological and emotional orientation of a person. Studies have shown that suicidal tendencies have been attributed to depression. On the other hand, depression has been defined as “a mood disturbance which is characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement resulting from and normally proportionate to some personal loss or tragedy”. Although not all depressive moods can lead to suicidal tendencies, depression exaggerates negative emotions which may provoke a feeling of hopelessness. It is quite interesting how suicidal behavior is interrelated with depression as well as the risk of homicidal tendencies. This implies that in understanding suicidal behavior, school shooting behavior can also be adequately understood. On how suicidal behavior is closely associated with homicidal tendencies that triggers school shooting is quite obvious on the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior wherein people acquire suicidal tendencies because of two distinct perceptions; a) the feeling of being isolated or alienated from society and b) the perception that their life is a burden to others. The isolation of one’s self as well as the negative perception of life imply that people who have suicidal tendencies also exhibit similar behavior that is observed from most school shooters.. Suicide is a mental state where a person is overwhelmed by his perception of alienation or uselessness of his existence. His mind is focused on this perception and sees it as an inescapable problem. Several factors can lead a person to reach this state of perception. Family issues, work-related problems, financial issues and other stressors can lead a person to alienate himself from others. And when he could not think of anything to resolve these issues, suicide would be the last recourse to end all his troubles. Because of this perception, the person who commits suicide sees it as the only solution to his mental state or perceived problems. However, there is a tendency that instead of ending one’s life, the hatred towards life would eventually lead to violent behavior. Such emotions could then trigger revenge, which is consistent with the motivations behind rampage shooting.
Knowing that people who have perpetrated school shootings have psychological issues, treatment should include intensive psychological interventions. Primarily, people who commit these crimes lack social interaction. For the same reason, psychological intervention programs should incorporate socialization as part of the rehabilitation of offenders. Because of their psychological state, offenders are extremely dangerous to others as well as on themselves because of the high risk in committing suicide. It is therefore recommended that offenders should be incarcerated in highly secured mental facilities until they are psychologically capable of being handled in maximum security prisons. In case they are contained in prison facilities, they must be isolated from other prisoners in consideration of their mental health. Before anything else, the primary focus of rehabilitation would be to address the psychological issues of the offender. On the other hand, juvenile offenders must be separated from adult prison facilities. Juveniles have complex needs and their treatment requires special attention. Because of their status as a minor, juvenile delinquents require more supervision as compared to adults. They also require special care in their mental and physical needs that are more suited for their age. Interventions such as continuing education in juvenile facilities as well as therapy programs that involve families and loved ones may be employed in the rehabilitation process. While modern psychological interventions are helpful in the rehabilitation of offenders, the major question is, should these offenders be allowed for parole and to mingle with society once more after they have served their sentence? Psychologists are divided on this issue. For some, school shooters are comparable to serial killers whose behavior are reminiscent of their troubled childhood, therefore, they suggests that such offenders can be allowed to return to society. Accordingly, such offenders acts like they are in a kindergarten cage; “once you remove the cause for their actions you remove the stress and they begin to behave like secure civilised adults”. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with their offense is too great to be ignored. For the same reason, the chance to mingle with society is seriously hindered. Apparently, these offenders could not shake-off the social stigma associated with their offense that the tendency to relapse is great. Those who opose sending back such type of offenders to society believe that “such psychopaths are extremely good at manipulating prison staff, as well as mental health professionals, and over time they can eventually be perceived as being 'cured' and ready for reintroduction into society”. Considering these factors, it is therefore, safer to keep offenders in a secured facility for the rest of their lives or else the government would have to risk the lives of members of the academic institution again.
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