Preventing a state moral panic shooting in schools

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School shootings are more prevalent in today's society than once before. With recent shootings such as the Red Lake Senior High School massacre in 2005 to older shootings as the Olean High School shooting in 1974 (Usiak, 1974), outcries from the public and community officials caught the attention of many politicians. In order to prevent a state of moral panic from concerned citizens, politicians campaigned to legislators for tougher laws and longer sentences on offenders who commit acts of violence in the schools.

On February 2nd 2004, the United States was stunned when seventeen year old James Richardson, was shot to death by nineteen year old Thomas J. Boykin, inside Ballou Senior High School, located in Washington D.C. Known for his athletic abilities on and off the football field, James Richardson was also known for his constant altercations with rival neighborhoods attending Ballou Senior High School. Weeks prior to Richardson's death, reports of bullying from students such as; Boykin and others began to reach school security officials (Cherkis, 2004). Security officials made plans to call D.C. Public Schools headquarters to have Richardson transferred, but it was too late (Cherkis, 2004). This case is a prime example of when bullying goes wrong; the leading cause school shootings (Johnson, 2007).

Researchers over the years have been researching additional leading causes of school shootings. Researchers concluded that the second leading cause of school shootings is because the perpetrator wants to get back at the people who hurt them (Cullen, 2004) as seen in the case of the Columbine High School massacre where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, took revenge on the bullies who had made school miserable for them (Galloway, 2008). The Columbine massacre shocked the nation when two students go on a vigilante rampage, killing fifteen (including the two perpetrators) and injuring twenty-four students (International Actions Network for Small Arms 1999). Researcher's third leading cause to why school shootings occur is because the "offender doesn't value his or her life"(Cullen, 2004), as seen with the Virginia Tech Massacre where Seung-Hui Cho willingly took his life along with thirty-three other students. The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, made a statement to the public that the increase of violence in schools are starting to take a toll on our children.

School shootings affect students in many ways. Statistics show that "approximately six percent of student's age's twelve to eighteen reported that they were afraid of being attacked or harmed at school while five percent reported that they were afraid of being attacked or harmed away from school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). Students everywhere are worried about coming to school due to fear of being a victim of a shooting. The percentage of students who had missed at least one day of school during the previous thirty days because they felt unsafe on campus or traveling to and from school increased between 1997 and 1999, from four percent to 5.2 percent. In addition to the students becoming fearful polls show that parents is increasingly concerned about the dangers facing their children (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

In a September 1999 Gallup poll, forty-seven percent of parents surveyed, said they feared for their children's safety at school. Seventy-one percent of its respondents believed that a shooting was likely to take place at their children's school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). With a high percentage of worried parents, politicians must make school a safe-haven for students. For some students, attending school allowed them to escape the harsh realities of troubles in their household or neighborhood, and come to a place where they were cherished and loved. Numbers like these sent messages to politicians and school officials who made changes within the school system in regards to decrease school violence.

According to a joint report from the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education, there were four incidents of targeted school shootings in the 1970s, five in the 1980s, twenty-eight in the 1990s, and twenty-five so far in the 2000s (Johnson, 2010). The reactions to the increased school shootings were:

hiring additional security officers in schools; installing metal detectors in schools; keeping schools open evening and nights to proposals to fund 100,000 "youth counselors";....the discontinuation of selling toy action figures because the toy's name could provoke reminders of boy charged in one of the schools shootings; bullet drills in which school children drop and take cover; requiring a few school teachers to carry concealed weapons at school; efforts by libraries to raise the age at which teenagers may borrow general circulation books to sixteen form thirteen and issuing special library cards that allow access only to juvenile books; efforts to include cigarette-style warning labels on violent music, movies and video games; and school lockdown procedures (Burns, 2003).

Politicians also took other action by implementing new laws and legislations that would prevent violence in schools such as the Brady Handgun Act and the Gun-Free School Act. Signed by President Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act finally went into effect February 28, 1994 (Cozzolino, 1995). The Brady Act named after James Brady-who had attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan-instituted federal background checks on all firearm purchasers in the United States (Cozzolino, 1995). This affected juveniles by making it virtually impossible for a person to person a gun under the age of twenty-one (Burns, 2003). From 1994- 2008, 1.8 million attempted firearm purchases were blocked by the Brady background check system (Cozzolino, 1995).By prohibiting juveniles from purchasing guns, the Brady Act has assisted communities by keeping guns off the street. The Gun-Free School Act of 1994 mandated the expulsion, for a period of not less than one year, of students who any form handguns, rifles (including BB and pellet guns), shotguns and explosives (not including common fireworks to school) (Dunn, 2002). With laws aimed at punishing juveniles for the possession of weapons and violent acts, legislators turned to the adults for accountability for their children wrongdoings.

Legislators are taking aims at punishing the adults responsible for allowing their children easy access to guns. Making it a felony to expose children to books, movies and video games that contain explicit sex or violence, legislators are implying that the reasons why school shootings happen are because of insufficient parenting. With the Senate's Juvenile Crime Bill calling for more than one billion dollars in Federal grants (Burns, 2003), legislators are making efforts to incarcerate the parents of juveniles who are truant from school. Even though legislation has been passed on both sides of the field by incarcerating adults and children who commits acts of violence in schools, but politicians and legislators are also looking at other methods that would help prevent and educate juveniles on school violence.

More than $2 billion dollars are being put into schools in order to develop programs (Dunn, 2002) that help prevent and educate juvenile's school violence. The National Association of Students against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) is s a student-initiated program that promotes nonviolence within schools and communities (Orange, 1989). By providing education about the effects and consequences of violence SAVE helps provide safe activities for students, parents and communities. Members of SAVE participate in numerous activities including conflict management, SAVE week, community volunteer work, SAVE rallies with other chapters, non-violence pledge drives, and fundraisers (Orange, 1989). They also speak to other school students, attend the annual SAVE Summit, serve as a SAVE Youth Advisory Board member, design t-shirts, and advocate for nonviolence everywhere (Orange, 1989).

Another effective program that helps prevent school violence is the No Bully program. The mission of No Bully is to make school a place where every student feels included by their peers and accepted for who they are, so that we create a world where every adult is accepted and valued for who they are (2000). No Bully helps schools and school districts to develop an anti-bullying policy and implement campus-wide programs to address bullying. Their goal is for all students to develop the social and emotional intelligence that will give them greater success in their peer relationships, their academic performance and in their adult lives (Carlisle, 2009). They offer a choice of powerful workshops, trainings and consultation to make this happen (Carlisle, 2009). These programs not only access techniques that can help prevent school violence but it also teaches students how to deal with depression, anxiety, fear, and many other psychological problems which can result from school violence.

Critics opposing to the legislation and funded programs that are in support of decreasing school violence, state that moral panic amongst citizens are brought by the news media and politicians. They claim that stories of youth violence are used by the news media to present a distorted image of the true state of affairs in our schools (Dunn, 2002). Supporters of this argument state that successful the "press finds little to excite the imagination, and prey on the fears, of its audience (Burns, 2003)." However school shootings provide news media with ideal opportunities to reach the public. "With the pre-existing discomfort with juvenile crime, the media recognizes and seizes perfect opportunities to continuously cover an issue that personally affects a large audience that involves harms against children (Burns, 2003)." By attracting viewers to increasing revenue, the mass media raise the public's fear of being victimized to disproportionate levels, hence creating a dangerous misperception that schools are dangerous (Burns, 2003).

Critics claim that politicians also plays role in raising the moral panic of school shootings as well. Stating that school shootings and school violence are calls for "symbolic politics" or the "politics of substitution Jenkins" (Killingbeck, 2001). Politicians and claims makers draw attention to these specific events because they represent other issues such as gun control, censorship, and morality. Politicians interest largely lie in promoting their legislation surrounding juveniles and school violence (Burns, 2003). By increasing penalties towards juveniles politicians tend to become popular with the general public (Burns, 2003). This is not a concern to politicians, due to the fact that juveniles are not permitted to vote in popular elections nor likely to develop lobby or special interest groups; thus juveniles pose no threat to any politicians (Burns, 2003).

With school shootings and violence remaining one of the most controversial subjects when dealing within the school system, we should constantly remind ourselves that "one is enough." One child who is scared to go to school because of potential danger can stunt his educational learning and affect them for years to come. Just one ask ourselves tell ourselves one just is enough. With debates on the decrease of crime severely punishing our children going to help the situation and prevent school violence or does set our children up for failure?" New laws and legislation are being pushed everyday at the Senate level to enhance the protection of our school system. Politicians and advocates of non-violent schools has helped raised the awareness of school violence (SAVE). Hoping one day that we can return our schools to the safe-havens which they used to be, researchers and theorist are coming up with new means of discovering solutions to this epidemic.