Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Why School Shootings Happen So Often in Affluent Cultures?

Why does school shooting happen? This unpredictable and senseless violence leaves a community wrecked and soul-searching in abysmal guilt. Politicians talk about gun-control, preventive measures and mental health issues for some time and then everything becomes business as usual with no answers or remedies.

Yet another school massacre at Kauhajoki in Finland, leaves a nation shell-shocked with grief.

Another round of analysis and questioning “Why again?” is followed by fault-finding, blame-shifting and political promises – all just before the upcoming communal elections.

Difference Between School Shooting and School Massacre

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School shootings are isolated incidents of someone killing one or more persons with a firearm or a death resulting from a gang fight. 

School massacres, are mass killing rampages by usually lone gunmen like the one in Kauhajoki. 

Many people remember the tragedies at Columbine High, Virginia Tech and think that such rampages only happen in the USA. But these massacres happen in other wealthy and stable democracies too. 

The statistics of school shootings and massacres are horrendous and gruesome reading. Here is a site devoted to the Timeline of school shootings and massacres all over the world.

Motives of School Shooters

The Copycat Effect (term coined by the author of the book, Loreen Coleman), is said to be very crucial for the planning and motives of gunmen. Martin Bryant, the gunman responsible for the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Australia had studied and copied Thomas Hamilton, who massacred innocent children at Dunblane. 

Similarly, newspaper reports have hinted that Matti Saari, the killer of Kauhajoki copied Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the killer at Jokela a few months earlier. 

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Martin Bryant had been diagnosed as mentally retarded with a low IQ and serious disorders. He had told neighbours "I'll do something that will make everyone remember me".

The catalysts for the school-shootings can be traced to a number of factors. Here is a screenshot from Jessie Klein's The Bully Society, a comprehensive study describing the school-shooting situation in USA.

What Can Society Do To Stop School Shootings

What does a society do to stop these killing rampages? Does it mean that we should go on a spree of arming schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras and armed guards? 

The butchering at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva religious school massacre in Israel was cut shot by one student, Yitzhak Dadon. He shot the gunman shooting with an AK-47 with his own pistol.
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Do societies go on a witch hunt by profiling people who can and who cannot kill as in "The Classroom Avenger," James P. McGee and Caren R. DeBernardo, Forensic Examiner (May-June, 1999)?

The U.S. secret service has researched all the US school shootings and massacres as well as the foreign ones. They warn against any kind of student profiling for would-be killers. This kind of ‘profile’ would fit too many students and miss the real killers. Profiling is often misleading as a preventive measure, as we might be lulled into a false sense of security as some 'potential' types have been identified and they are being watched.

  • In the Concordia University massacre it was a dismissed assistant professor. 
  • Some American school massacre gunmen lived with both parents in "an ideal, All-American family." 
  • Others came from broken homes, or lived in foster homes. Significantly, a few were loners, but most had close friends. 
  • Some of them had been teased at school but most of them had not. 
  • The killer at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada separated his victims and killed only women (fourteen of them).

Can a society like Finland, which has the third highest number of guns in the world after USA and Yemen, decide to ban handguns? 

Gun controls were intensified in Scotland after Dunblane. but Guns haven’t been banned in USA after repeated school massacres and neither in Yemen after the Sanaa massacre in 1997. The Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, an extremely powerful weapon, often called a civilian version of the US Army M-16 assault rifle, was outlawed in 1994. But in 2004, US Congress gave in to the political clout of the gun-rights lobby and did not renew the ban. So a potent weapon of mass-destruction remains freely available for school shooters in USA.

Why Some People Become School Shooters?

The outcry in Finland after the Jokela massacre has been to increase the number of school psychologists. Many school killers had regular consultations with psychologists, but it didn’t stop them. In countries like India, Bolivia or Thailand with no school psychologists, school massacres fortunately haven’t happened.

Could the potential killer’s soul get poisoned by an inability to measure up to the demands of a society too bent upon achieving more and more? 

Can we blame a society for becoming too performance oriented, too materialistic so that human values take the back seat? 

Can we say that the people in a certain country are too busy and have become cold?

The social system in rich countries takes care of people and responds to situations. But systems function with cold efficiency and can never have human warmth. Here are some disturbing questions that emerge after every such tragedy, but are soon overlooked as they become 'uncomfortable' questions.
  • Can more of the 'system' reach out and touch the lost ones? 
  • Can a professional shrink reach lonely children if the parents are too busy chasing results in their jobs? 
  • Does it help if doctors prescribe stimulants for depressed people with no reason to live and let live?

Could the inner recesses of a potential killer become devoid of human warmth, dignity and respect so that the only way to escape that persistent laceration of self-hatred is to feel oneself superior by using weapons? 

Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland put the killer's picture on the front page in place of the usual ads. In 25 years the only other time news replaced ads was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you murder 10 innocent people, the leading paper of the land recognizes you as a major celebrity. This is media-sponsored pandering to egoism at its worst.
When religious myths do not speak to us any more, when social structures like marriage and family start to crumble, what else can fill in the vacuum of values but a mythology of hatred and violence?

Should we recognize that in spite of all the progress and riches, in many countries, it is the end of living and the beginning of survival for many? Neither a Mink coat nor the flame from the muzzle of a gun can save you from the cold embrace of death when your heart is frozen. You need care and love from people to remain a warm human being. Since when do systems give that!

Rather than running after PISA rankings to measure school efficiency, should schools teach students how to live good lives?

Should richer countries seriously start to measure success and prosperity by Gross National Happiness like in Bhutan? The Fourth International Conference on Gross National Happiness will be held 24-26 November 2008 in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Further reading: Klein, Jessie, (2012) The Bully Society: school shootings and the crisis of bullying in America’s schools, New York, NY: NYU Press, http//


John said...

Guns should be banned in Finland too. This measure helped in the UK. Finnish people are very distant. I have seen lots of crime reports every day in the papers here. Very violent and cold society.

A worried father. said...

Very interesting point - why does such shootings repeat in certain societies only. Maybe there's something wrong with these societies.

Banning guns is a political response, just to shut up angry parents. More measures are needed. Good article. Thanks.

X said...

Nice story.
I'm not sure can u call Finnish culture affluent, but wealthy it is.
Thanks anyway...and the name of this first angst-ridden fruitcake is Pekka-Eric Auvinen.

Elite Sports International said...

well finland got highest no. of guns thats why.

Antigun said...

What do you expect? No wonder such violence happens if there are so many guns. Why aren't these people sent to the sea in Somalia to stop piracy!

Rana Sinha said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. From the media it seems that school shootings has now been taken very seriously by the authorities in Finland.

Anonymous said...

Many of these people are pumped full of pills. I wouldn't have gone on a shooting spree, but I can tell you that psychiatry warps the perception.

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