Call for Chapters Extended!

Interested in publishing a chapter in an edited book? My colleague, Dr Markey, and I are editing a volume about mitigating mass violence in contemporary society. Papers on a variety of topics are welcomed: shifting definitions of mass violence; ways to prevent and manage these acts; news media representations of these incidents; the growing use of technology in mass violence attacks.

Further information and details of how to submit are available here:

https://www.igi-global.com/publish/call-for-papers/call-details/4449

The deadline has been extended to 16th December 2019. Please get in touch if you wish to discuss an idea for a paper.

 

 

Call for Chapters

Interested in publishing a chapter in an edited book? My colleague, Dr Markey, and I are editing a volume about mitigating mass violence in contemporary society. Papers on a variety of topics are welcomed: shifting definitions of mass violence; ways to prevent and manage these acts; news media representations of these incidents; the growing use of technology in mass violence attacks.

Further information and details of how to submit are available here:

https://www.igi-global.com/publish/call-for-papers/call-details/4449

Tearing Down Columbine?

In my last blog post published on the 20th of April 2019, I wrote about the legacy of Columbine twenty years on. The school shooting at Columbine High School in which thirteen victims were killed has been cited by numerous subsequent school shooters and aspiring attackers. The most recent example of this involved a female teenager said to have been infatuated with the shooting who travelled to Colorado from Florida, made some threats that were enough to shut down a number of schools and ending up killing herself. Another woman who was stopped in the parking lot of Columbine High School was said to have frequently posted about the Columbine shooters on Tumblr, describing them as ‘God-like.’ Those said to be obsessed with the massacre are described as ‘Columbiners.’ (1)

Littleton, the suburban neighbour where Columbine High School is located, is associated with the site of a high-profile tragedy. Although there has been remodelling of the school, the building more or less stands as it did in 1999. Unfortunately, this has meant it has become somewhat of a macabre attraction for visitors. Superintendent Jason Glass reported that the amount of individuals trying to enter the school building or trespassing in the campus area were the highest on record in 1999. Some of them are coming just to see where the tragedy took place, others coming to pay respect to the victims. (2) There are a minority, however, who may pose a threat. The challenging part is trying to distinguish which of the many threats — which spike exponentially following a new school shooting — are credible. The unprecedented growth in the amount of threats Columbine High faced ahead of the twenty year anniversary coupled with the constant stream of macabre visitors have provoked a debate about whether the school itself should be torn down and rebuilt. Following the Sandy Hook school shooting, the building was demolished and rebuilt. This massacre took place in 2012, however, when the United States had tragically became all-too-familiar with school shootings. In 1999, when Columbine occurred, it seems unlikely that anyone had actually envisaged the infamous status the Columbine shooters and the school itself would take on.

There are those who in favour of doing tearing down Columbine and starting afresh with a new building. The former principal who was in post at the time of the shooting, Frank DeAngelis, supports a new building facility writing in a Facebook post that “it is people that make us a family, not the building.” (3) Similarly, in the community blog about schools in Jefferson County, a letter was submitted by Superintendent Jason Glass in early June 2019 advocating rebuilding the school further away from the road. He advanced some ideas for the new school. These included keeping the name, school mascot and colours the same and preserving the Hope Library that was built in honour of the victims. (4) On the other hand, there are those who feel that this would not solve the problem — particularly if the name Columbine was still retained— or that the building represented a symbol of strength in the community. (5) This debate is likely to unfold over the coming months. Regardless of what Jefferson County School District decide to do about the building, it is likely that the term ‘Columbine’ itself will always be synonymous with a terrible and destructive act of violence.

 

[This blog post was put together using articles about the potential destruction of Columbine High School and previous knowledge about Columbine. The next blog post will look at Jamie’s Law, a bill for purchasing ammunition named in honour of a victim of the Parkland School Shooting.]

(1) Brianna Provenzano. (2019) ‘A “Morbid Fasicnation” with Columbine High School Might Lead to Its Shuttering.’ Pacific Standard, 10 June. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/a-morbid-fascination-with-columbine-high-school-might-lead-to-its-shuttering 
Jessica Contrera. (2019) ‘The Man Keeping Columbine Safe.’ Washington Post, 5 April. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2019/04/05/its-been-years-since-columbine-shooting-his-job-is-stop-next-attack/?utm_term=.e48d700ae442
(2) Brianna Provenzano. (2019) ‘A “Morbid Fasicnation” with Columbine High School Might Lead to Its Shuttering.’ Pacific Standard, 10 June. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/a-morbid-fascination-with-columbine-high-school-might-lead-to-its-shuttering
Jessica Contrera. (2019) ‘The Man Keeping Columbine Safe.’ Washington Post, 5 April. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2019/04/05/its-been-years-since-columbine-shooting-his-job-is-stop-next-attack/?utm_term=.e48d700ae442
(3) Julie Turkewitz and Jack Healy. (2019) ‘Columbine High School Could Be Torn Down to Deter copycats.’ The New York Times, June 7. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/us/columbine-high-school-demolition.html
(4) Jason Glass. (2019) ‘A New Columbine?’ Advance Jeffco, June 6. Retrieved from https://advancejeffco.blog/2019/06/06/a-new-columbine/
(5) Julie Turkewitz and Jack Healy. (2019) ‘Columbine High School Could Be Torn Down to Deter copycats.’ The New York Times, June 7. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/us/columbine-high-school-demolition.html

The Infamy of Columbine: Twenty Years On

Twenty years have passed since twelve students and one teacher were murdered by two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. It seems that the word ‘Columbine’ is so infamous that is requires no explanation. Arguably, there were school shootings prior to the 1999 attack at Columbine High School that were just as shocking: for instance, the Westside Middle School attack in 1998 perpetrated by students aged eleven and thirteen years old. Over the past two decades since Columbine, there have been numerous horrendous school shootings, including ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School. There have also been mass shooting incidents with a higher death tool such as the Pulse Nightclub massacre and the Las Vegas Strip shooting. None of these, however, have ever quite had the impact of Columbine.

There are a number of reasons for this. Columbine is so infamous. To start with, the news coverage was different to previous school shootings. Broadcast news stations showed footage from the scene of the attack as it unfolded, documenting schoolchildren leaving the school, SWAT teams storming the building and those who had been shot escaping. In one notable example, footage captured a student who had been shot jumped out the window of the library. After the shooting, Columbine continued to generate interest in the news. Debates unfolded about school violence and culture, Gothic culture, bullying, violence in films and mental health. The shooting at Columbine High School was the top news story of 1999, with 68% of viewers claiming they were following it ‘very closely.’ (1)

Columbine also had a notable impact on policy debates. There was strong criticism of the law enforcement response to the attack; additionally, gaps in the existing in emergency management plan for the school were highlighted. This led to changes in emergency management planning across the United States and law enforcement tactics for these types of shooting incidents. Measures to report threats such as the hotline Safe2Tell were set up to. Security measures like metal detectors were also installed in schools throughout the United States. Despite it giving salience to the issue of youth gun violence, gun legislative responses to Columbine were modest in nature. Age restrictions and child safety requirements on firearms were passed in a handful of states. The background checks system was tightened in Oregon and Colorado, the state in which Columbine occurred. There was no action at the federal action, with the policies of the Clinton administration failing to make it through Congress. Twenty years on, Tom Mauser, one of the parents of a victim of the Columbine shooting, is still campaigning for tighter gun laws, wearing the shoes his son, Daniel, died in. (2)

Unfortunately, Columbine also appears to have motivated school shootings that have occurred in the past two decades. It is claimed to have inspired seventy-four ‘copycat’ plots, twenty-one of which actually became mass shootings in schools and other locations. (3) Furthermore, in a compiled list of school shootings from 1999-2007, seven out of nine in the United States and six out of eleven occurring elsewhere in the world referenced the Columbine incident. (4) Some of the other more noteworthy attacks like the shootings at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 have involved perpetrators who were interested in the Columbine perpetrators. Thwarted school shooting plots, such as one at Radnor High School devised by a female student, have involved individuals fascinated with the Columbine perpetrators. There was even a threat made against Columbine High School itself this week, made by a female perpetrator who was said to be ‘obsessed’ with the Columbine incident. (5) It appears that the Columbine shooters have become somewhat of a role model for the disenfranchised.

Lessons have been learned from this incident. Policies have been changed. Sadly, further attacks have been inspired by this attack. On the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine shooting, the most important thing is to remember the victims and their families, the survivors and all others affected by the attack. The bravery and dedication showed by those impacted by Columbine is commendable. As said by then-President Clinton “Columbine was a momentous event in the history of our country…Even in the midst of tragedy, we’ve seen the best, the best there is to see about our nation and about human nature.”

[This blog post was written for the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine attack. It was written based on previous research conducted by the researcher relating to school shootings. Regular blog posts will resume in summer 2019.]

 

(1) Pew Research Center (1999) “Columbine Shooting Biggest News Draw of 1999.’”http://www.people-press.org/1999/12/28/columbine-shooting-biggest-news-draw-of-1999/

(2) Christopher Bucktin. (2019) ‘Dad of Columbine shooting victim wears shoes his son died in as he fights gun laws.’ The Mirror, 13th April. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dad-columbine-shooting-wears-shoes-14308219

(3) Follman, Mark. 2015. “Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter.” Mother Jones November/December edition. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/mass-shootings-threat-assessment-shooter-fbi-columbine

(4) Larkin, Ralph W. 2009. “The Columbine Legacy: Rampage Shootings as Political Acts.” American Behavioural Scientist 52: 1309-1326.

(5) BBC News. (2019) “Denver schools close as FBI hunt ‘Columbine-obsessed’ woman.” 17th April. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-47959374

Snapshot 1 (14-04-2019 19-29)

Book now available

Read my new book about the gun-related policy responses to school shooting incidents in the United States.

Available for purchase here: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319753126

Responding Across Cultures: Are European school shooting responses different to American ones?

The previous blog post compared and contrasted a handful of European school shootings with American ones and found that there was not much difference in the motivations and actions of perpetrators. This post will follow up on that looking at the aftermath of school shootings across different cultures.

 

Starting with European incidents, the Jokela school shooting in 2007 was discussed at length in a blog post published on the 25th of September 2017. The aftermath of this school shooting involved a number of recommendations centring on creating a better school environment and helping students: improving student welfare and ensuring the relevant authorities (e.g. social work) cooperate; clarifying mental health disorders such as adolescent anxiety; devising and implementing school safety plans; formulating programs to tackle bullying. More importantly, a report by the Ministry of Justice in Finland acknowledged that the perpetrator ‘copied school killings perpetrated in the USA’ with his use of a firearm with him being a legal gun owner. Recommendations, therefore, centred on more stringent checking of who is permitted to have a gun permit and greater use of fixed-term permits. Another point raised in this report was the fact that the perpetrator engaged in online discussions about school shootings prior to his attack and also used the internet to promote his manifesto. It was advised that administrators of online communities should stage interventions in such cases and moderate content more closely. Looking at the German Winnenden school shooting (2009) finds that this lead to the passage of gun legislation intended to improve handgun security: a nation-wide registry of gun owners, increased age limits for purchasing guns and unannounced inspections at homes to check guns were stored securely. Since the perpetrator stole his firearm from his father, this case also led to a lawsuit being filed against the father. As it transpired, his father was found guilty of involuntary homicide caused by negligence with a weapon. Another example was the Dunblane school shooting in the United Kingdom in 1996, which led to a more or less ‘blanket ban’ on handguns in the UK. Current gun owners were encouraged to return their guns after the 1997 law was passed and the criteria on who was allowed to own a gun became very strict, with people requiring a valid reason for doing so.

 

Looking at the United States now finds that earlier school shootings in the 1990s (e.g. Heath High School, Pearl High School, Westside Middle School) led to a ‘Conference on School Safety’ held at the White House in 1998. Responses centred on anti-bullying programs, reducing youth violence more generally, greater parental involvement and creating networks of support within the community. When the Columbine school shooting occurred in 1999, this expanded the scope for debate to violent entertainment media, ‘goth culture’ and gun laws. There were some provisions in place regulating violent media for a while and schools began developing emergency management plans to deal with active shooter incidents. Zero tolerance disciplinary measures were also implemented across a number of schools for carrying weapons, wearing certain types of clothing or any other action deemed ‘risky.’ Proposals were raised around children and guns but these never gained traction in Congress. The main changes to guns came at the state-level following Columbine. School shootings since then have resulted in changes to mental health laws and some restrictions on guns at the state-level. Similar to the Winnenden school shooting, some incidents in the United States have resulted in the parents of victims filing lawsuits against the parents of the perpetrators (e.g. Columbine) or in some cases other targets like the film industry on the basis of it influencing the actions of the shooter (e.g. Heath High School).

 

Contrasting the responses to school shootings across cultures is indicative of the differences. The motivations of school shooters are rooted in feelings of marginalisation, possibly being bullied and the need to get ‘revenge’ against the institution, no matter which country the attack took place in. When it comes to the aftermath, however, European countries have taken overt steps to tighten gun laws in response to school shooting incidents. In the United States, this has not really been the case for the entire nation; any gun restrictions have arisen at the state-level only. The similarities between the U.S. and European countries have been to improve the school culture and provide assistance to students who are struggling with mental health or other personal problems. In ensuring that responses to school shootings help to avert and negate future attacks, countries should try working together and sharing strategies about what has worked best for them.

 

[This post was put together by reading about cases in Europe and the United States. The next blog will continue the global theme by examining patterns and motivations in Canadian school shootings.]

Cultures Apart? Does a European School Shooting Differ from an American One?

In a blog posted on the 1st of October 2014, the reasons why the United States has the highest number of school shootings in the world were outlined. A culture rooted in individualism, hyper-masculinity and high levels of private gun ownership were said to be contributing factors to an elevated rate of incidents. This post will compare and contrast trends in school shootings in the United States with those in Europe to determine whether cultural differences affect the motivations and unfolding of school shootings.

 

To narrow the selection from the high population of incidents, this post will only focus on a selection of those occurring from the 1990s onwards. Starting off with the European incidents, the Dunblane Primary School attack in 1996 was the only school shooting to have ever occurred in the United Kingdom. This involved an outside adult male perpetrator who killed sixteen children and their teacher. The perpetrator had been suspended from youth clubs he ran due to suspicions about his ‘intentions towards young boys’ and had felt extremely aggrieved by this, even writing to the Queen and his local politician to complain. It may be surmised that the primary school and a class of its youngest students aged five and six was targeted because they represented innocence. The other European school shootings have mainly taken place in Germany and Finland. Beginning with German incidents, the 2002 Erfurt massacre resulted in sixteen deaths, most of which were teachers. The perpetrator had recently been expelled from the school and this was an act of revenge against the institution. In the 2006 Emsdetten shooting five were killed by a student who felt he was ostracised and labelled a ‘loser’ at the school. The perpetrator posted an advanced warning about his intentions in an internet forum and also left material to be found after the massacre. Another German school shooting was in 2009 in Winnenden, where the perpetrator was a former student whose poor grades had meant he was unable to enter an apprenticeship. Twelve were killed at the school and the perpetrator then fled the scene and went onto shoot other people outside, ending up in a shootout with police in a car showroom. In Finland, the Jokela school shooting in 2007 resulted in eight murders. The perpetrator, who had been bullied at school, showed an intense interest in other school shooters and a hatred of humanity. He also uploaded his manifesto online prior to the massacre. Another high-profile incident resulting in ten victims took place in Finland in 2008 at a university in Kauhajoki. Similar to the Jokela attacker, the perpetrator admired school shooters and expressed hatred towards mankind.

 

Our attention will now turn to a handful of the incidents that have occurred in the United States from the 1990s onwards. One of the most shocking of these was the Westside Middle School massacre in 1998 in which five were murdered. The reason this was shocking was because the perpetrators themselves were aged eleven and thirteen and went to a degree of planning: letting off the fire alarm and then shooting people when they left the building. Another school shooting occurred in Heath High in 1997 and involved the perpetrator firing a gun into a prayer circle of girls. The Pearl High incident in 1997 resulted in the murder of the perpetrator’s mother and two girls at the school. In the case of these three incidents, perpetrators were said to have felt persecuted by other students and suffered from bullying. Additionally, they had their romantic advances spurred by girls: the Pearl High shooter killed his ex-girlfriend and the Heath High perpetrator shot a girl he had a crush on during his attack. The Columbine High School Shooting in 1999 is arguably the most infamous of all school shootings in the United States due to its shock nature and the fact that parts of it played out on live television. Another incident occurred in Red Lake High School in 2005, where the perpetrator killed his grandfather and companion at home and then went on to kill another seven at his school. The perpetrators of the Columbine and Red Lake school shootings had expressed disdain for mankind, admiration for extreme ideologies and believed they were superior to others in their intellect.

 

Comparing the motivations of the European school shooters with the United States ones finds these are relatively similar. The Finnish school shooters appeared to be admirers of the Columbine school shooters and shared similar ideas about humanity. If a difference had to be flagged, it could possibly be that a couple of the European cases involved expelled students and were perhaps more clear-cut examples of ‘revenge’ than some of the other cases. Overall, the themes of bullying, rejection, feeling like a ‘loser’ are prevalent throughout all the case studies discussed here.

 

[This blog compared a number of European and American case studies to determine whether there were any differences in motivations of school shooters. Information about individual cases was used. The next blog post will follow up on this by examining the responses to school shootings across different cultures.]