Explanations for Why School Shootings Occur

Following numerous incidents of school shootings both in Canada and the United States, much attention has been focused on the potential causal roles for why these horrific events take place. Due to the various school shooting events that taken place, many explanations have been proposed in an attempt to understand what drove the perpetrators to commit these acts of violence. The following are four of those explanations:

1) Violence in Video Games

Some individuals have attempted to examine the roles that violent video games play when it comes to school violence. This explanation first gained national attention following the Columbine Shootings in 1999, when the public heavily criticized violence in video games as a potential reason for the actions of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Video games were again thrust into the limelight in the months following the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, when even such recognized figures as Dr. Phil McGraw (‘Dr. Phil’) stated that violent video games were likely to be a significant causal factor (Ferguson, 2008, p. 1).

However, suggesting that school shooters may have been influenced by violent video games is not necessarily a flawless argument. Many were shocked when investigators determined that Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Massacre, had little exposure to video games. And in 2002, a study of school shooting incidents in the United States found that only 59% of perpetrators demonstrated an interest in violent media of any kind, including violence seen in videos and on television and that which is heard in music. In addition, only an estimated 12% of perpetrators were known to have demonstrated any interest in violent video games (Secret Service Report, 2002). depression.jpg

2) Mental Illness

Mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and psychopathy have been proposed as explanations for why several perpetrators of past school shootings committed such acts of violence. Mental illness arises from a complex interaction of genetic, personality, and environmental factors and can affect people of all ages and from all income levels and cultures (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2009).

The extent to which mental illness plays a role in school violence has not been definitively proven, yet it remains as a strong and well-supported argument for why acts of school violence- particularly school shootings- take place. For instance, Seung-Hui Cho had a recorded history of anxiety disorder. Further, many believe that Dylan Klebold, one of the two boys responsible for the Columbine Shootings, suffered from psychopathy (Cullen, 2009).


3) Violence in Music

Often, explicit rap and heavy metal music lyrics are blamed for dehumanizing individuals and glorifying the use of violent behaviour, which may subsequently lead youth to perpetrate similar acts of violence. The common belief is that such lyrics dehumanize individuals and glorify the use of violence. The same often goes for school shootings. Music lyrics often mention criminal acts including robbery, murder, and physical and sexual assault, and commonly make reference to other acts that degrade the human life. For instance, songs that mention acts of murder are heard in the following lyrics:

“We’ve killed everyone worth killing, hope you’ll do the same. We’ll be back next week for another edition
of Slaughterama.” (Slaughterama, Gwar)

Several music artists have been heavily critisiced by the media for using violent and degrading lyrics in their songs. Such artists include rappers 50 cent, Eminem, and Tupac Shakur, as well as rock band Marilyn Manson.11421MercyStreetFight.jpg

4) Culture of Violence

Unfortunately, violence has become a common aspect of our culture. Often, those who feel wronged by enemies consider violence as a legitimate method of expressing anger or resentment. The “culture of violence” argument can be made with respect to the 1989 Montreal Massacre; after feeling wronged by certain students (all of whom were girls), Marc Lepine looked to violence as a means of seeking revenge.

One social context in which a culture of violence clearly seems apparent is in schools. Social rejection is, unfortunately, a common aspect within elementary and secondary school settings. Less favourable students are often singled out by various cliques and student groups, and in the process, are given such labels as “emo”, “loners”, “losers”, “geeks”, “stoners”, or otherwise. Students that are categorized into these groups are often bullied and face unfair social rejection from other groups, and thus may feel the need to turn to violence as a means of expressing their anger or seeking revenge.