School shootings seem to be the new type of youth violence that is sweeping across the nation. This new trend has an eerie way of turning a school, which should be a safe haven for children, into a battlefield. Stories of troubled children turning to guns to make a statement or to get back at the school can be found all over the news. School shootings are a fairly new part of today's crime wave and truly shock their audiences.
Although school shootings are a new crime, school violence is not. Dating back to the seventeenth century, students have lashed out against each other and their teachers with weapons, with the intent to kill or harm others (Greenough, 1). The first well-known school shooting took place in 1979, several hundred years after the first acts of seventeenth century school violence. The shooting was committed by Brenda Spencer, when she used a rifle to kill 2 people and wound 8 more (Hanes, 4). Even though this first school shooting was committed by a female perpetrator, almost all school shootings after this were committed by males.
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While a few other school shootings did occur after the Spencer shooting, the outbreak of school shootings did not happen until the 1990's. The beginning of this outbreak started with Giles County, Tennessee, when Jamie Rouse killed 2 people and wounded 2 others (Hanes, 5). The school shootings steadily increased until the infamous Columbine shooting, which holds the highest death count for a school shooting in America. The Columbine shooting left 13 dead and 26 wounded, and was committed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebod (Hanes, 8). This school shooting sadly caused many other “copy-cat” shootings to occur, but it also launched “zero tolerance” rules and other organizations to help stop school violence (Hanes, 11).
With school shootings, came controversy. People questioned the cause of these school shootings, and what approach should be used to help combat them. Several ideas for the cause of the violence were thought about, such as the violent influences of today's pop culture, parenting tactics that a child was raised with and gun availability. A popular idea about the cause of school violence is bullying.
Bullying is a persistent pattern of threatening, harassing, or aggressive behavior directed toward another person or persons who are perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful (Fundukian, 2). Bullying has been proven to have adverse effects on the victim, especially in children and adolescents. Victims of bullying often feel less important and can struggle with emotional, social and academic parts of their lives (Fundukian, 2). Victims also miss a lot of school to avoid bullying and their self esteem is usually low (Fundukian, 2).
Bullying can cause severe distress in the victim and sometimes the victim to bottle up their feelings which after a period of time can cause them to “snap” which in some cases can lead to a school shooting. Because almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident (Burns, 5), bullying has a very high chance of being the cause of school shootings.
To begin with, bullying has been a problem in school for as long as schools have been around. The bullying itself, through teasing or hitting is not what harms the victim to the core of their psyche; instead it is the extent and the length of time that someone is being ridiculed (Smith-Heavenrich, 3). Through time bullying begins to really get to the victim and sometimes make them feel inadequate or unimportant. Many bullying victims contemplate suicide or other bodily harm.
In some cases of bullying, the victim has been know to “lash out” against the bully and other students who have let the bullying happen, by committing an act of violence. Victims of bullying tend to bottle up their feelings, because they think that if they tell someone, that the bullying will get worse (Smith-Heavenrich, 3). Most of the time, the bottled up emotions spill out in sadness which can sometimes result in suicide. But in some select cases the emotion inside the victim is an intense rage. When that rage is kept inside for so long, the results can be devastating.
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For example, Luke Woodham who was responsible for the Pearl, Mississippi school shooting which resulted in 2 deaths and 7 people wounded told authorities that the reasoning behind the horrible crime he committed was (O'Connor, 3), "I'm not insane. I'm just angry and miserable because people like me are mistreated every day." While his testimony nowhere near justifies his actions, it does explain his mindset when he decided to start shooting in his high school. Many school shooters feel this way, like there was no other way out of the situation except to get back at their bullies by taking control over them for once, by using an extreme force of violence.
Because the bullied are often loners, there is higher chance that they won't tell anyone what they plan to do. But there are still warning signs that teachers and peers miss, such as writing poetry that is fixated on death, or say things like “I think killing people would be cool,”(O'Connor, 3).
The inner rage of bullied kids, slowly builds up with each taunting and teasing that occurs. The anger also comes from teachers letting it slide, and the victim feels like there is no one to turn to. What begins as what bullies may say is a harmless joke can slowly start to make someone feel so helpless and mad that they begin to plot a way to stop the hatred that comes their way. This deep fury can sometimes turn into a horrible school shooting. Although this is a more volatile way of releasing tension from bullying, there are other causes of bullying that can lead to school violence.
To continue, bullying can lead to mental health problems in some instances. It has been proven that bullying can cause victims to experience depression and anxiety issues throughout their lives (Hanes, 6). When someone is coping with a mental health issue, their judgment can be off, and their emotions can be hazy. Small disturbances that occur during the day can off set someone with a mental illness. Without any counseling, or help when diagnosed with a mental illness, things can go awry.
The depression within an adolescent is a dangerous thing if left untreated; it can lead to suicide, conduct disorder and alcohol and drug use disorders; a previous attempt; and the availability of firearms in the home (Tyrell, 1). Someone suffering from anxiety can have a continuous feeling of anxiety of have quick panicky attacks that can last from minutes to hours.
While not having treatment for depression and anxiety spawned from bullying is a bad idea, anti-depressants and other medications can have adverse effects. Medicines such as Ritalin can cause mania, insomnia, hallucinations, hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention (O'Meara, 5). These types of symptoms can cause severe behavior changes in an adolescent, and turn them into someone their parents do not even recognize.
Although anti-depressants can help a lot kids to feel happier, and somewhat normal, the side effects can take a turn for the worse. For instance, school shooter Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when killed 2 people and wounded 22 others (O'Meara, 6). Some of the side effects of drugs like Prozac and Luvox; which Eric Harris the Columbine shooter was taking can cause amnesia, apathy, hyperkinesis, hypokinesis, manic reaction, myoclonus, psychotic reaction.
Several other school shooting and hostages have reported similar findings. The victims of bullying are placed on anti-depressants and the results can be less than satisfactory. Although anti-depressants are scientifically linked to suicide, medical findings have yet to find the direct link between the antidepressants and homicide, but there are studies that are trying to prove the idea (O'Meara, 6). Dr. Marks, when reviewing the Columbine shootings stated “I'm in the process of updating my report for the court, but my preliminary impression from looking at the material is that there very well could be a causal relationship here, that this drug could have been a factor that tipped Harris from being a troubled teen to a murderer.” After Marks made this statement, the drug Luvox was taken off the market.
Kids like Eric Harris, who have been bullied and teased all their lives, finally find some reprieve from their depression through the form of anti-depressants, but what if the help of these medicines can turn them into cold, violent mass murderers.
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Finally, bullies are not only the victims own age, but also on some occasions are their teachers, but this problem is rare. A more common problem for bullied victims is that their teacher does nothing about the constant bullying, and because of this school violence is even more so on the rise.
In a study done by Frank Barone, a group of hundreds of eighth graders were asked if they had ever been bullied, and then teachers were to say how many kids had been bullied. The results were shocking, 58.8% of the eighth graders said they had been bullied, but the teachers said that only 16% of eighth graders had ever been bullied (Barone, 4) studies have been done, such as watching playground activity and the results showed that teachers only catch about 1 out of every 25 cases of students being bullied (Smith-Heavenrich, 4). These studies show that teachers are very unaware that so many children are being bullied.
Many teachers seem to put bullying on the back burner and attribute it to a part of growing up and that is not a serious problem (Barone, 4). But this has been proven otherwise by the violent acts that occur in school. In one case Nathan Feris, a young boy who was constantly teased, brought a gun to school and fatally shot a student and himself (Barone, 5). No teacher had ever tried to stop the bullying, and told him to brush off the situation. Like other teachers, they saw Feris's problem as a right of passage into adulthood, that to become a “man” he had to face his bullies (Barone, 6). This is just one example of how teachers need to keep surveillance and stop bullying in its tracks.
To conclude, school shootings have severe effects on the students, faculty and families involved. Finding the cause of school violence is the only way to fix it. Bullying seems to be the culprit in these mass murders. Small things like the building up of rage in someone can cause it, also the depression that comes with bullying adds to it and teachers not intervening with the bullying all play a role. Because almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident (Burns, 5), bullying has a very high chance of being the cause of school shootings.