In order to graduate from my high school, you need to complete a senior project. Depending on which school you are in, classic high school or the international high school, the project differs. In classic high school, you need to present your project to a panel of judges where you did an activity. Activities can be related to getting into a college, a mentorship, or painting a mural, but I am in the international high school so my project was different. In the international high school, your project is a paper, called the extended essay, that takes a year or so to complete. In your junior year, you begin deciding what you want your paper to be about; it can be about anything you want, as long as you can find an expert you can get help from. Paper genres range from mathematics to politics to literature to psychology, so you can literally do anything that interests you. Over the course of a year you research, plan, write, and if you don’t pass it the first time then you revise and submit it again. This paper is a requirement for IB, but no matter if you’re doing IB or not you need to do the paper. I am not doing IB so my paper does not have to be sent to the IB gods, so I own my paper and can do anything I want with it. I decided to write my paper on school shootings and how to prevent them, so here is my paper:
BITE THE BULLET: A PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF SCHOOL RAMPAGE SHOOTINGS AND PREVENTION
In the United States alone there have been 288 shootings within schools since 2009 where at least one person was killed (cnn.com). This includes gang violence, rampage shootings, accidental firings, and domestic violence. This isn’t the case for other economically-advanced countries. For example, Canada, Japan, and the UK have only have had 2 or fewer shootings with casualties within schools since 2009 (cnn.com).
Another uniquely American concept is a school massacre, or also known as a school rampage (SR) shooting. An SR shooting is different from a “regular” school shooting. SR shootings are “defined by the fact that they involve attacks on multiple parties, selected almost at random” (Schoenfeld), and is “a type of school shooting where no single or specific individual is targeted by the shooter” (britannica.com). Whereas in “regular” school shootings they are targeted, usually only with a singular person as the target. Prime examples of an SR shooter would be Kip Kinkel, Eric Harris, Seung-Hui Cho, Nikolas Cruz, and Adam Lanza.
America has a very unique gun culture. America is one of three countries with the right to bear arms still in their constitution, but we are the only country without constitutional restrictions on bearing arms (businessinsider.com). It is up to individual states to enforce regulations on firearms, and because of this, guns are easily-accessible to children, the mentally ill, and dangerous criminals. Most state’s gun laws are not sufficient and extremely lacking. Every year the Giffords Law Center publishes a scorecard for each state based on how good their gun laws are.
As you can see above, a lot of states have an ‘F’ rating. For each state, there are six categories Giffords judges: background checks, domestic violence, child access prevention, extreme risk protection order, concealed carry permit, and regulation of military-style weapons. They then base them on whether there is no law, a partial law, or a strong law. The main categories that pertain to SR shootings are the regulation of military-style weapons, extreme risk protection order, and child access prevention. Military-style weapons are “not intended for hunting or self-defense—they are specifically designed to make it easier to efficiently kill high numbers of people in a short amount of time” (lawcenter.giffords.org). This is exactly what SR shooters want. They want the highest amount of deaths in a short amount of time and military-style weapons can achieve that. Extreme risk protections orders “provides a mechanism for family, household members, or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from people at proven risk of harming themselves or others. These laws can help prevent mass shootings, domestic violence incidents, and suicide, where people frequently demonstrate clear warning signs of dangerous behavior while experiencing a crisis” (lawcenter.giffords.org). Very little states have a strong law to do this; the only states being Oregon, California, and Washington. And child access prevention laws are important because “Millions of children live in homes with easily accessible guns, which too often leads to unintentional death and injury, teen suicides, and school shootings” (lawcenter.giffords.org).
The United States needs to end the unique SR shooting trend, but how can we as a society, specifically the government, the media, and parents, prevent SR shootings in the United States? The answer to ending SR shootings isn’t simple. The profiles of SR shooters vary significantly, so it is hard to identify them, but to help prevent SR shootings from happening, the government must implement regulations on firearm ownership, the media must limit what is told about the shooters to prevent copycats, and parents must not blindly protect their children if they have shown signs of violent behavior and mental illness.
Psychology of SR Shooters
In the media, there has been a lot of misconceptions of what to look for when looking for a possible SR shooter; every shooter is a loner, are a part of dysfunctional families, are all the same, and all are committing these acts out revenge. But this is not the case.
Two of the most prolific SR shooters are Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who were the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre where they killed a total of 13 of their peers and wounded 21 others (britannica.com), and then killing themselves after. Harris and Klebold were, and are, often stereotyped as the loners and the victims of bullying. But after a decade of analyzing the event, it has been proven that Harris and Klebold were really the loners they are portrayed as. Though they might have felt lonely, in reality, they were a part of a huge friend group and were not bullied, but instead, they were the bullies. They thought the people around them were inferior and they wanted to exterminate them. “‘Columbine is perceived by many as an uprising of the oppressed,’ said Mr. Langman. ‘But that’s not how [Harris] was looking at the attack. He wrote about wanting to get rid of all the stupid, inferior people, but because of how it was portrayed in the media, about two bullied kids, that perception is still very much alive.’” (washingtontimes.com).
With the case of Harris and Klebold, people want to blame the parents for “turning” them into killers. “‘I wanted people to understand that he was loved. And cuddled. And held. And touched. And I had all kinds of pictures of Dylan on laps and with arms around him.’ There was, she says, ‘an assumption that he was mistreated, or not ‘loved’, one that Klebold knew not to be true, even as she scoured photos looking for external verification. Over and over she asked herself, ‘Did we hug him enough?’” (theguardian.com). This quote is from an interview with Sue Klebold, Dylan Klebold’s mother. It appears like Klebold was cared for and was not from a dysfunctional family.
On the other side of the spectrum is Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Shooting where he killed 32 people (biography.com). He fits into the loner stereotype perfectly. “Picked on by other students at a young age, Cho was later described by his college professors as a troubled loner” (biography.com). He was mean and disturbing to other students and teachers and clearly was a troubled individual, but he wasn’t from a dysfunctional family. His family were immigrants from South Korea and seem very caring for Seung-Hui. His parents are described as “‘…a very warm, loving and giving family…’” (washingtonpost.com). Seung-Hui’s mother just wanted him to have friends. “Hyang Im, with her daughter translating, told Sood how she had tried unsuccessfully to find friends for her son. She later turned to psychiatry, despite the stigma——in Korean and American cultures——of mental illness. She and her husband worried when Seung Hui decided, against the advice of a counselor, to go away to Blacksburg” (washingtonpost.com). His parents only wanted him to live a happy life, but there was nothing they could have done.
There is a clear differentiation between Harris and Klebold and Cho. One side broke all stereotypes while the other fits perfectly into the stereotypical SR shooter portrayed by the media. This is only a small comparison of SR shooters as there are dozens more. With these varied characteristics, it is understandable how it can be hard to determine whether they are an SR shooter, or even blame it on one instance in the shooter’s life.
Motives and Mental Health
The motive for a school shooting is never known until months or even years after the shooting. Psychologists and law enforcement will comb through journal entries, talk to the families, and talk to school officials to come up with a possible reason.
To the common person, the motive of an SR shooter can seem insane. Their motive seems almost insignificant, but we have to keep in mind that they are mentally ill and don’t have the same sense of right and wrong. Some examples of motives are voices telling them to do it, suicide, revenge, or “because it was Monday”.
All SR shooters have some kind of mental disorder, the severity differing between shooters. It plays a major role in why shooters will shoot people they know with little to no remorse. In Peter F. Langman’s book Why Kids Kill: Inside the Mind’s of School Shooters, he puts shooters in three categories: the traumatized shooter, the psychopathic shooter, and the psychotic shooter. A traumatized shooter’s motive would either be suicide or revenge. Sometimes the revenge would be on the students but sometimes it would be displacing their angry on someone not responsible for their pain; either a family member or someone who has caused them trauma. A psychopathic shooter would shoot their peers “because it was Monday”. They don’t have any remorse or empathy and are extremely sadistic. They don’t care who they are hurting and most likely don’t place names or faces to those around them. Then lastly, a psychotic shooter who kills because the voices told them to. Because most psychotic shooters display signs of schizophrenia, they hallucinate and become disillusioned.
An example of a traumatized shooter is Mitchell Johnson, who committed a school shooting in Arkansas with classmate Andrew Golden. His father was a violent drunk and Mitchell was sexually abused by an older boy, who then threatened to kill Mitchell’s grandmother if he told anyone about it. “Though Mitchell had problems with his temper and got into some minor trouble at school, there is no indication that he had the features of a psychopath. Neither is there any indication that he ever experienced psychotic symptoms. He was a physically and sexually abused boy from an unstable family who was talked into being part of a school shooting by a friend” (Langman).
Examples of psychotic shooters would be Kip Kinkel. They both showed signs of severe mental disorders. “A psychologist for the defense reported that Kip had a psychotic disorder with major paranoid symptoms that may have been severe enough to indicate early-onset schizophrenia” (Langman). Langman then goes on to list the many delusions Kinkel had. “Kip was convinced that the Chinese were going to invade the United States…Kip also believed that Disney was taking over the world…Kip thought that perhaps the government had placed a computer chip in his head, and this chip broadcast the voices he heard. He also believed there was a man in the neighborhood who wanted to harm him; Kip was so afraid of him that he reportedly bought a gun to defend himself” (Langman).
Lastly, an example of a psychopathic shooter would be Eric Harris. He was an unempathetic, sadistic, and unremorseful, while also a charismatic individual. “Eric was an expert in impression management. He took pleasure in lying to people and getting away with things. He wrote, ‘I could convince them [school administrators] that I’m going to climb Mount Everest, or that I have a twin brother growing out of my back…I can make you believe anything’” (Langman). He was a classic psychopath with no regard to the law or the safety of others.
Whether they’re traumatized, psychotic, or psychopathic, the mental health of the shooter plays right into their motive. Without it, the shooting would have never happened.
Currently, gun control is a hot topic throughout America, especially after the SR shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Students across the country are wanting stricter regulations on buying and possessing firearms to make it more difficult for the shootings to happen, but the federal government is slow to implement regulations. So, instead, some states are making stricter regulations, but how will putting stricter regulations on firearm ownership prevent SR shootings?
In certain states, the minimum age for buying firearms is 18 years old, but in most, it is 21 years old. The laws are less strict for gun ownership though. “Federal law prohibits handgun ownership by any person under the age 18, with a handful of exceptions. But there is no minimum age for long gun (i.e. rifle and shotgun) ownership. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have set their own minimum age laws ranging from 14 in Montana to 21 in Illinois, but in the remaining 30 states it’s technically legal for a child to possess a long gun” (washingtonpost.com).
Many countries around the world had major massacres involving firearms, but after setting tight restrictions on gun ownership and purchasing, the number of gun-related incidents, not just massacres went down a lot and no more massacres have ever happened since. The prime example of a lot of anti-gun people use is Australia. After the massacre of dozens of tourists, the Australian government made it extremely hard for adults to buy guns. Other countries with extremely restrictive gun laws such as Japan has not seen any massacres in any workplace or school or public area that wasn’t related to the mafia.
Restricting gun ownership and purchasing not only can stop massacres, but it can prevent suicides by guns too. “Firearm suicides represent the largest component cause of total firearm deaths in Australia (more than three in four of all firearm deaths). In the 18 years (1979–96), there were 8850 firearm suicides (annual average 491.7). In the 7 years for which reliable data are available after the announcement of the new gun laws, there were 1726 firearm suicides, an annual average of 246.6” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).
Not only can restricting gun purchasing and ownership help prevent the deadly school massacres in America, but it can also help prevent other problems in the country.
Is it the Parents’ Fault?
It is both not the parents’ fault and is their fault. On one hand, you can’t blame the parents in most cases because they cannot make their child into a psychopath or turn them psychotic, it is something they are born with; the only exception would be with traumatic shooters with dysfunctional families. But on the other hand, parents don’t act on the warning signs they see in their children. It is a result of overprotection, which isn’t uncommon for a parent to do because all a parent wants is to protect their children. Parents should learn the limits of privacy with their children. A parent shouldn’t investigate every little thing going on in their child’s life and always believe their child is going to be a killer if their child is a little “weird”, but if a parent notices something even a little bit off with their child they should investigate.
For example, Kip Kinkel’s and Eric Harris’ parents both knew about their fascination with violence and weapons, and in one instance hid the knowledge of a history of severe mental illness. “For example, Eric Harris’s parents knew he had built a pipe bomb” (Langman 178). The author mentions that this would usually raise a bunch of red flags in our minds and result in us investigating further. The author says that in order to help prevent school shootings parents need to be alert to any warning signs, such as rage and love of violence and weapons, and be able to report it and investigate further if it warrants it, no matter what their child says about the topic. A parent should also not lie to protect their child. In the instance of Kip Kinkel, his mother lied about the family’s long history of mental illness to Kinkel’s psychiatrist. “Long before the murders, Mrs. Kinkel also told a lie that may have had damaging consequences. She was concerned enough about Kip to take him to a psychologist. When the psychologist asked her if there was any family history of mental illness, however, she said no. Serious mental illness was rampant on both sides of Kip’s family; relatives had been dangerous, and numerous relatives had been hospitalized” (Langman 180). Kinkel’s father also lied that ended up being a big part in the cause of the shooting. “The day before Kip’s rampage at school, he was suspended for having a gun at school and was taken to the police station. When Mr. Kinkel went to the police station, he told the officer that his son would be safe at home. He assured the officer that there were no guns in the house” (Langman 180). This was a complete lie. Kinkel’s father had bought him a multitude of firearms under his bed, and Kinkel even had some weaponry unknown to his parents. That was the night that Kinkel murdered his parents. Parents should also listen to their kid’s school when the school had expressed worry with their children. Both Eric Harris’s school and Kip Kinkel’s school called their parents about suspicious violent behavior in writing to try and get their children professional help, but both their parents were almost offended and ignored everything the teachers and counselors said and warned. Another thing that parent can help is to eliminate access to guns because most school shooters get the guns directly from home, or a close relative’s or person’s house. Kids, if they want them hard enough, know and will do everything to get a gun. Guns need an extremely safe spot that is extremely hard for children to access.
A parent shouldn’t take all the blame when their child is the perpetrator of an SR shooting. It isn’t their fault that their child has a mental disorder that causes them to not be able to process their surrounding and the difference between right vs. wrong and the real vs. the fake. But parents should be more attentive to their children and shouldn’t feel as if they should protect them from everything. Sometimes protecting can do more wrong than good.
The Responsibility of the Media
In the aftermath of an SR shooting, many copycats come up through the cracks; it is inevitable. But the reason why many shooters do what they do is for recognition and fame. So, to use that hubris against the perpetrators, or possible perpetrators, the media needs to limit what is told to the public about the shooters themselves. By limiting media coverage, the perpetrators wouldn’t get what they want; fame and glory. “Media coverage of mass shooters rewards them by making them famous, and provides a clear incentive for future offenders to attack. Many of these at-risk individuals recognize that murdering large numbers of men, women, or children will guarantee them fame. They believe their names and faces will adorn newspapers, television, magazines, and the internet—and unfortunately, they are right…” (Lankford).
After an SR shooting, people and the families want to know why the shooter did what they did; it is only natural as humans are curious creatures. Because the public wants to know about the shooter, people think it isn’t bad to publicize about the shooter, but it is not the case. “The notion that this is all okay, because we are giving mass shooters negative attention, not positive attention, no longer appears credible. After all, the basic premise that ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’” (Lankford). The shooters use the publicity for their own selfish goals; to send their message across the nation. And if media outlets don’t give into the shooter’s goals, it can prevent their ideas to be spread across other equally-disturbed individuals.
Along with media coverage bringing fame to the shooter and spreading their ideas, it can make shooters want to compete with each other. Making future shooters trying to increase the body count from the last and causing a contagion of SR shootings. The popular example of this is the “Columbine Legacy” (Larkin).
Columbine was the turning point of the American SR shooting trend. It was the first high-publicized school shooting in America, but because of its heavy media coverage, it has left a lasting imprint on society. A lot of shooters post-Columbine reference Columbine in their manifestos or research of Columbine is found on their computers. Before Columbine, the motivations for SR shootings weren’t very known, the only main reason was revenge, but post-Columbine the number of motives increased; including wanting revenge they wanted notoriety, to celebrate Columbine, surpass Columbine, and gain attention.
SR shootings are extremely complex. A lot of factors go into why someone so young would kill so many people they know with so little remorse. It is a mixture of mental health, the American gun culture, overprotecting dangerous children, and people not looking out for warning signs. The prevention of SR shootings needs to happen because of the lasting effect shootings have on society. To help prevent SR shootings from happening the American federal government needs to implement gun restrictions because not only will it prevent SR shootings, it will help with other gun problems in America. Parents also need to look out for warning signs and not overprotect their child, because in many instances with past shooters, not pursuing suspicion of the children helped cause the shootings. But after Columbine, it has been hard to prevent similar events from happening, mainly because of the heavy media coverage of Columbine. This is helping and inspiring future shooters in pursuing their demented and disturbing thoughts. Though not one thing or all of the possible preventative measures can completely stop SR shootings from happening, they can help lessen the amount of shooting the youth see themselves, or through the news, in their lifetime for the current youth and the future generations of America.
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For anyone writing their own extended essay, or a graduation requirement similar to it, do not take exactly the same ideas that were presented; I worked a very long time on this and you should do your own work. Feel free to get inspiration for what you would want to do though. And yes I know there are a lot of grammar mistakes.
If you are beginning to write your own extended essay, some tips for making it less of a chore is choose a topic that is actually interesting and compelling to you, and also make sure there is a lot of research available online or in a library.