Tag Archives: Red Lake High

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.]

“The more rounds you can fire…the more victims you can create”: Restricting High Capacity Magazines

The quotation in the title was stated by one of the gun violence prevention experts to whom I spoke, highlighting the potential deadliness of high-capacity magazines. Due to their potential to fire off multiple rounds without the need to reload, these are commonly used in school shootings, as well as other incidents involving multiple deaths: for instance, the shooter in the Aurora cinema in Colorado, an event which killed 12 and injured 70, had a magazine that was able to fire off a hundred rounds. This blog post will advance the argument that the high death toll in school and other mass shootings is related to high capacity magazines.

The definition of a ‘school shooting’ denotes an intention to kill and injure as many people in an education institution as possible in a short period of time. It could, thus, be argued that high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, allowing for multiple rounds to be fired, facilitate this process. For instance, the perpetrator of the shooting at Virginia Tech University — considered the worst mass shooting in the United States, due to its high death toll of thirty-two — used a magazine holding thirty bullets and shot his victims, both those killed and injured, multiple times. During the Columbine school shooting, the perpetrators fired almost two hundred rounds; other school massacres from Sandy Hook through to Red Lake have involved the use of semi-automatic weapons to allow for continuous firing. Having the potential to fire multiple rounds pertains exactly to the goals of a school shooter to murder as many as possible.

Another issue to be considered is that when a shooter has to change a magazine, this gives an opportunity for them to be stopped. An example of this is the 2011 mass shooting involving former Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, in Tuscon, Arizona, when the shooter was tackled by individuals when he ran out of bullets and had to change the magazine on his weapon. The Red Lake High school shooting involved a student both grappling with the perpetrator to retrieve his weapon and stabbing him in the stomach with a pencil, heroic actions which are believed to have saved the lives of others. It is unknown whether the shooter was changing magazines at this point; although if he had been, this would have provided the distraction needed to take forceful action against him.

Despite all this, legislative action on limiting high capacity magazines has been slow. President Obama put together a package following the Sandy Hook shooting, which included a proposal to limit magazines to ten rounds. This failed to gain any noticeable support in the Senate, so it was subsequently dropped. Conversely, there is actually a modest degree of public support for limiting large capacity magazines to ten rounds: 68% of those surveyed by McGinty et al. (2013), with 48% being gun owners and 19% members of the National Rifle Association (1). Notably, there was a law implemented in the state of Colorado in 2013 that limited gun ammunition magazines to fifteen rounds. This is particularly significant considering Colorado has suffered a number of mass shootings over the years, including the Columbine and Aurora Theatre incidents. Candidates in the 2012 Colorado election were  asked by citizens about what action they were prepared to take on gun violence, so this was clearly an auspicious moment to try to pass this kind of legislation. There were, however, counterchallenges to the Colorado legislation from Concerned Citizens for a Safer Colorado, claiming it violated the right to self-defence; this group unsuccessfully tried to overturn the magazine limit. In future, it may be the case that it will fall to individual states, rather than the federal government, to enact similar legislation around high capacity magazines.

 

  • McGinty, E. E., D. W. Webster, J. S. Vernicle, and C. L. Barry. (2013) ‘Public Opinion on Proposals to Strengthen U.S. Gun Laws: Findings from a 2013 Survey.’ In D. W. Webster and J. S. Vernick. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 239-257.

 

[This blog was put together using results from interviews with gun violence prevention experts and further readings pertaining to school shootings and gun legislation. The next series of posts will explore ways to frame the gun violence debate in order to gain policy traction.]

‘The Allure of the “Masculine” Identity’: The Gendered Nature of School Shootings

Gender is the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to school shootings. The gender-neutral term of ‘school shooter’ or ‘perpetrator’ is commonly used in public discourse to describe the attackers of these tragic incidents. Despite this, save a handful of incidents like Brenda Spencer and her ‘I just don’t like Mondays’  attack on Cleveland Elementary School in 1979, school shootings are perpetrated by males. Studies examining the patterns within the psycho-social characteristics of school shooters have found the commonality of a fragile sense of masculinity. In this sense, masculinity acts as a descriptive element of the cultural ideologies and observed behaviours of men. It is socially constructed and exists within the gender ideals, which have been circumscribed within a particular social, historical and cultural context.
Applying Erich Fromm’s  socio-psychological argument that individual problems are influenced by the social structures in society finds that the cultural environment of the school itself in the case of contributed to the ‘crisis of masculinity’ felt by internal attackers in middle and high schools. The theorist Jessie Klein  drew upon Pierre Bourdieu’s original conceptualisation of ‘cultural capital’ relating to one’s position in the habitus (world) and their perception of it, to devise a model of popularity for male students in U.S. high and middle schools: proving one’s manhood, athletic prowess, sophisticated social skills (also known as ‘savoir-faire’), romantic success with females and high socio-economic class. This also involves the display of prescribed ‘masculine’ traits, such as toughness, challenging authority, belligerence, and dominance over others, whilst repressing emotions and avoiding any behaviour considered ‘feminine’ in nature.
School shooters at Columbine High, Heath High and Pearl High were called ‘gay’ by their peers, despite there being no actual evidence to suggest they were homosexual. Relating this to gender theory finds a hierarchical positioning exists of heterosexual (dominant) and homosexual (subordinate) men. In this sense, the use of derogatory terms like ‘gay,’ ‘fag’ and rumours in the school that school shooters had male lovers suggests that perpetrators were not considered ‘masculine’ enough by their peers. Further ‘threatening’ their masculinity is the fact that the shooters suffered from girlfriend problems or rejection by girls. The girlfriend of the Red Lake school shooter had just broken up with him; the Pearl High perpetrator had also had a relationship come to an end and wrote in his journal: “With this writing, I do swear, that I shall never get myself in a position where I can be hurt by a woman ever again.” The Westside Middle School, Heath High and Columbine High shooters were all rejected by female students at their school. A disturbing element of this frustration was demonstrated in a diary entry written by one of the Columbine High shooters describing fantasies in which he raped females in his class at school.
When school shooters equate violence and aggression with ‘masculinity,’ the attacks themselves become the ‘tool’ to ‘gain’ masculinity. This generally begins with the perpetrators conflating guns with feelings of strength and power: one of the Columbine High shooters said “I feel more confident, stronger and more God-like” when using guns; the Heath High attacker claimed: “More guns is [sic] better. You have more power.” These notions of masculinity then translate into a ‘cultural script’ of vengeance prescribing violence and killing: once this has been infiltrated into the public sphere vis-à-vis the news media and other outlets, potential school shooters then have a framework of action to carry out. A commonality of school shooting attacks has been the targeting of girls who rejected the perpetrators and hence ‘threatened’ their masculinity. The Pearl High and Westside Middle School perpetrators all targeted their former girlfriends in their shooting attacks, whilst the Heath High shooter killed two girls who spurned his advances. The relationship between guns, power, violence and the misogynistic view that females who spurred their advances must be ‘punished’ to ‘performing’ and ‘asserting’ masculinity is a dangerous one for fuelling school shooting attacks. 

 

[Gender theories, previous studies relating to school shooters and assessment of journal writings of the school shooting perpetrators cited were used to put together this post. A longer version of it appears as a chapter in the edited book volume Exploring the Facets of Revenge.]