School Shootings in America
Why Do the Shooters Shoot? In this paper, I will select a crime to examine and analyze sociologically. I will also suggest a remedy for addressing this social problem at either a local or national level using sociological ideas and previous examples of intervention to justify my argument.
One of the most disturbing and researched crimes in America is a mass shootings, particularly – school shootings. The endless reasons for these crimes have lawmakers and enforcement officials, throughout the country, starting initiatives and committees to examine ways to reach those who may commit the crimes and those who know these possible perpetrators to recognize any possible warning signs exhibited and to speak out for help. After each shooting, people are always looking to find “Who is to blame?” and “Why did no one see this coming?”
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On the questions of why and who, we might look for answers to this kind of an event from the analysis of the psychological state of the perpetrator.
One of the challenges of trying to examine and learn more about the individual shooters is a lot of them do not survive the actual crime themselves. Many of these crimes end in the shooter’s suicide, perhaps as a gateway to avoid prosecution, possibly as part of a premeditated plan, or perhaps as a combination of both. Those who survive can give us insight on what they were thinking or their possible motives, if they choose to do this due to video games or music or just not feeling part of their communities or social networks.
The Shooting at Taft High School, in California
On January 10th, 2013, only a month after the horrific school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary, Bryan Oliver, a 16-year-old student entered a classroom at Taft High School, in California. Oliver was armed with a shotgun, belonging to his brother, and looked for two classmates that had bullied him. One student, 16-year old Bowe Cleveland, was hit and was critically wounded, while the other, Jacob Nichols, was barely missed in the attempt.
Oliver’s plan started the night before and included for him to purposely arrive late to school the next day, showing up about halfway through the first period of class. School cameras captured him as he entered a side entrance instead of the school’s main door. He fired twice, only injuring Cleveland. He then encountered two school personnel and they were able to talk him into putting his weapon down on the ground, after he told him that he would not shoot them.
Oliver’s Trial and Testimony
Oliver, on the stand during his November 19, 2014 trial, said he never intended to kill Cleveland, who he saw as a ringleader for those bullying him and he had no memory of the crime because he went blank. That trial ended with no verdict, however, he later entered a plea deal for lesser crimes a year later.
We have had dozens of mass shootings since that fateful day. Are there any real solutions or ways to deter shooters, like Oliver? Was it bullying, the access to a gun or mental illness that made Oliver a shooter that day? Is it gun control or programs to help those with mental challenges or a combination of this and other laws or societal models?
As mentioned earlier, there seem to be as many reasons for the shootings as there are shooters. However, it was the Sandy Hook tragedy, perhaps more than any other school shooting, which broke the collective hearts of a nation and brought issues like gun control, media violence, school safety, and mental health to the forefront of political discussion(Bruhn, Woods-Groves, & Huddle, 2014).
What is societal violence? How does societal violence affect us? These seem like simple questions that are easy to answer, but understanding violence is difficult. Researchers have differing conceptualizations of what violence is, thus leading to a plethora of definitions(Kelly, 2014). Frequently, when school violence is observed, the topic of how society has been permeated with online or computer game violence. When the actual shooting occurs, these games are often seen as the primary stimulus for the shooter. Clearly, bullying is a problem regardless of age of the student and the type of school the student attends. Bullying affects the bully and others watching or allowing it to happen.
Lastly, many people suffering with mental illness simply do not get the care needed to help them. Society seems to not have come to realize how early intervention could help with a lot of our problems. Young people feel disassociated with peers and their grades and social skills are defeated by a low sense of self. This leads to dropping out of school, possibly becoming part of the court system, or performing senseless acts such as these.
During his trial, Bryan Oliver was questioned about how he may have allowed his interests in video games and horror movies to influence his sense of reality. Psychodynamic Theory’s premise is, according to Siegel, (2017), “”The development of the unconscious personality early in childhood influences behavior for the rest of a person’s life”” (p. 150). Oliver said he was suspended from school in 2012 after discussing a dream he had years ago while living in Tennessee. In the dream, he dressed in body armor, and with a gun, entered the school auditorium and killed all the bullies. There were a number of similarities between Oliver and the main character, Demian, in a story he titled “”Phycopath”” (sic). He even uploaded some of the story of the revenge tale online, just prior to the doing this himself. Futhermore, Demian, like Oliver, had no memory of committing the crime.
This dream and the manner in which Oliver seemed to live his life fits into psychodynamic trait theory’s structure of the Id, ego and superego. These three aspects of our unconscious and conscious decisions are important. In this respect, Freud postulated that people’s superego is responsible for the incorporation of societal morals and values. The superego is also as well as allowing the mind to control impulses based on moral judgments(Lowe, 2017).
As with most local, state and federal policies and services, there needs to be funding attached to every strategy and initiative. There is no way to avoid this elephant in the room and to simply think there are ways to combat violence without the full support of an actual budget for these agencies is absurd. What could help would be a comprehensive and uniform screening system for students, beginning as early as middle school, nationwide.
Also, putting everything on teachers in these strategies is not the best thing to do for this particular problem. Students’ problems, particularly the more visible “”acting-out”” behaviors such as aggression and hyperactivity, are apparent to teachers. Teachers are on the front line of red-flagging student problems, both behavioral and emotional. Teachers and staff depend on the assistance of professionals in defining, implementing, and monitoring interventions. In addition to helping teachers meet the academic needs of students, mental health services in the school have become a resource for families and communities.
Systematic, universal screening is one proactive approach in a continuum of early identification strategies to detect students who are at risk and may need further diagnostic assessment or who could benefit from targeted intervention. We need a coordinated local, state and federal focused deterrent process. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from acquiring guns if they have ever been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. Currently, there are no national laws or systems to assist localities in coordinating a uniform effort to deal with mental illness crimes. After the Sandy Hook shootings, there was a renewed discussion on prevention and deterrence for those suffering from mental illness. Yet, Congress has never proposed or passed laws to fully fund their initiatives.
The short and long-term harmful outcomes associated with students with emotional and behavioral problems have been well-established, with research indicating high rates of poor academic achievement, social insanity, mental health issues, and criminal activity for these youth. We need to allow these youths to be understand societal norms and expectations and allow them to feel a part of the overall society. Make them feel as though they matter and that acting out is not beneficial to them or to others. Define for them, what is right and what is wrong and to provide help for them if they are feeling disassociated from or outside what is considered the norm for behavior.
However, how and when can we tell when an individual’s action may pose potential harm to themselves or to others and how can we look into the future for these actions to happen?
School resource officers need to be in more schools and have some official partnerships with the local communities. They need to be seen as a resource and not just as a police officer. The best neighborhood policing is done on foot, walking or driving a beat, and where everyone knows the officer and trusts them. School resource officers need to be seen in this same light. In fact, there are many schools without resource officers, due to lack of funding.
So, there must be a meeting of processes from the educational and court system to allow these young people to understand there is help in both areas. Families need to know they have the ability to get help they can afford or provided by these systems for their child. We have close to universal health care, but we do not have universal mental health care. This needs to be put in place.
Deterrence and limiting school violence will need a collective and comprehensive effort at the local, state and national level. Educational, political, law enforcement and peer awareness all have a part in this effort. Furthermore, early identification of students with mental health concerns aligns with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Thus, the school system has the responsibility to provide early identification and interventions for students with mental health concerns. Universal screening is a tool in helping to put the spotlight on student mental health concerns.
Bryan Oliver, the Taft high school shooter, talked about how he was bullied for most of his middle and high school years. There were several instances where he was physically and verbally assaulted, yet the system was not there to help counsel him about this and to also counsel the bullies. Oliver admitted to talking with other students about school shootings. Maybe Oliver’s id, ego and superego that allowed him to relate to the character, Demian, he created in his stories. Maybe his loss of realism was all a part of how he viewed the DVD he was viewing prior to the shooting that morning. Neither school counselors nor mental health professionals within the court system ever worked with Oliver.
Why was there no follow-up initiated for Oliver? This is where the comprehensive strategy should be in place to ensure that teachers and counselors, within the school and community are aware of at-risk students as they move through the schools. Funding would be the primary obstacle and after every shooting politicians pledge to make funding a priority.
Kelly, S. (2014). Overview and Summary: Societal Violence: What Is Our Response? Online Journal of Issues in Nursing,19(1), 42. Retrieved from Questia.
Kotowski, J. (2016, September 13). Taft shooter’s mother appeals for reinstatement in lawsuit against school district. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.bakersfield.com/news/breaking/taft-shooter-s-mother-appeals-for-reinstatement-in-lawsuit-against/article_fcf30f5f-692f-5653-baec-c3dcba915859.html
Lowe, D. (2017). Early Childhood and Development of a Difficult Sense of Self: Can It Hinder Good Relationships with Others? Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences, 10(1), 47. Retrieved from Questia.
Siegel, L. J. (2019). Criminology: The core (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage.