Copyright © cJinL
Design by Dzignine
January 11, 2013

What Causes School Shootings?

School shootings are a topic of much fascination in the U.S. They invoke such an impetuous media circus of 'why's' and 'what's' that there's often little time to even mourn for the victims. Perhaps it's the immense shock that comes from the idea of our youth shooting up their peers indiscriminately, but it is a fair question nonetheless. What causes school shootings?

Well, a variety of things. But the discussions that follow are often along the lines of: "did they play too many violent video games?" and "were they fans of death metal?" Superfluous questioning like this wastes so much time and diverts so much attention away from the more pressing issues that it becomes increasingly difficult for people to understand the circumstances behind each tragedy. What one must do is separate the facts from mere conjecture, and that starts with eliminating the more irrelevant points of conversation. Like, for instance, the topic of "violent entertainment" and its effect on children.

Youth violence dropped drastically as the game industry skyrocketed

The fact of the matter is, there is no evidence to prove that violent media causes violent behavior. None. There are various (outdated) studies that claim they have found a "link" between violent video games and aggression, but these studies are inconclusive and dubious at best. Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Texas A&M, published a comprehensive study in 2014 that analyzed the connection between violent media and violent behavior.

Through two studies that examined violent media consumption against youth violence rates, Ferguson was able to conclude that "societal consumption of media violence is not predictive of increased societal violence rates" and that video game consumption is in fact associated with a decline in youth crime rates. Although the aforementioned correlation doesn't necessarily equate to causation, it's certainly clear that violent media isn't contributing to any alleged "rise" in youth violence.

This image makes me want to...knit sweaters.

But if this readily available information is true, why is the gaming industry such a constant target for blame? As Ferguson noted, its a "confirmation bias". If the shooter is a young man, people tend to buy into the assumption that video games had a role. Notice that when the shooter is older, video games are never mentioned. This bias makes it seem like violent media is always an issue among young perpetrators, when the reality is that they almost never turn out to be overt consumers of violent media. Politicians and news media consistently use this bias to blame irrelevant things, despite having no data to support their claims.

The question must then be asked: "What really causes school shootings?" Obviously, there's no one answer, as each tragedy was the result of a culmination of various factors, but I'll start by pointing out the most important aspect: the clear mental instability that seems to be so commonly exhibited by mass murderers like Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold, and Seung Hui Cho.

Seung Hui Cho (Virginia Tech)

Seung Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) had a long, recorded history of mental illness that plagued him and those around him for almost his entire life. During his formative years, he suffered from a crippling social anxiety that made it nearly impossible for his teachers and loved ones to communicate with him, and in the 8th grade he was diagnosed as having "full-blown depression" and suicidal thoughts. This followed him into his years at Virginia Tech, where he was once involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility for sending a message to one of his suite-mates that read: "I might as well kill myself."

Much of his time at Virginia Tech was marked by run-ins with fellow students and professors. He was reported by two different female students for stalking, and his professors frequently noted how they were disturbed by his "angry writings and oddness". Lucinda Roy, the head of the English department, once tried to tutor Cho privately, but she was forced to alert the school's counseling service and police after being "unnerved" by his behavior. She thought he was "so miserable he might kill himself."

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (Columbine)

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not as closely monitored throughout their lives as Cho, but the FBI and it's team of psychologists have been able to decipher the shooters' mental profiles rather conclusively after two decades of extensive research. Eric Harris was a classic psychopath who displayed "prominent antisocial, narcissistic, and sadistic traits." His hateful journal entries, which were once thought to have been influenced by bullying, show that he had extreme contempt for other people. He pitied them, and viewed them as "inferior" beings who deserved to be punished. He once stated that he wanted to "wage a war" on society and "outdo" the Oklahoma City bombing, so it's apparent that he had grander, more sadistic goals than mere vengeance.

Dylan Klebold, on the other hand, had a much weaker personality and was actually a major depressive who showed no signs of being psychotic. He was "profoundly religious", and his journal entries show that he was constantly fighting suicidal thoughts with his spirituality, although his anger and self-disgust would eventually win him over. Klebold likely felt that he had little to live for, and it's reasonable to believe that his participation in the Columbine shooting was the result of him being influenced by the megalomaniac Harris.

With problems so deeply rooted in their disturbed personalities, how could anyone assume that trivial influences like music and video games were responsible for their actions? They were mentally and emotionally volatile people, and their desperate acts were ultimately the result of their being unable to exist in the midst of a toxic environment that has an utter lack of care for the sick. What they needed was for others to take notice before the inevitable happened, but this seems to be how our society deals with "troubled" individuals. We dismiss them, and hope they crawl into a corner somewhere.

It's honestly such an enormous shame how we tend to glide over people with clear psychological issues. Oftentimes, we disregard their struggles because of the lack of any definite consensus, but I believe there's also an intentional avoidance that is committed out of a fear of responsibility. What we have to do is approach each problem individually instead of constantly trying to place the blame on some misguided assumption. Every tragedy has a unique set of circumstances surrounding very complicated individuals, and it's simple ignorance to think that answers can be found out in plain sight.

Ironically, Marilyn Manson said it best in an interview from Bowling for Columbine:

Michael Moore: "If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine, what would you say to them?"
Marilyn Manson: "I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did."


Post a Comment