A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
In this article in Education Week, Jillian Peterson (Hamline University/St. Paul) and James Densley (Metropolitan State University/St. Paul), both leaders of The Violence Project, say there is a $3 billion industry focused on protecting students and educators from mass shootings: reconfiguring school architecture, classroom locks, security cameras with facial recognition, safe rooms, bulletproof windows, Kevlar backpack inserts, and lockdown drills. “There is no evidence that any of this stuff works,” say Peterson and Densley. “All we do know is that the search for school safety solutions is sending districts into more debt and hurting school climate.” More than half of U.S. teens worry about a shooting in their school, even though the chance of that happening is roughly one in 614 million.
Peterson and Densley spent two years looking for a better approach. Under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, they studied the life histories of mass shooters back to 1966 and all school shootings starting with Columbine. They also interviewed incarcerated school shooters, their families, students who planned violence but changed their minds, survivors, teachers, administrators, and first responders. They combed through media and social media, suicide notes and manifestos written by perpetrators, trial transcripts, and medical records. The researchers found that although there isn’t a single profile or predictor of violence, school shooters shared these characteristics:
- 98 percent were male.
- They were almost always a student in the school.
- They were angry or despondent over a recent event, resulting in suicidal feelings.
- They expected to die in the act, so their plans were suicidal.
- They suffered early-childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.
- They studied other school shootings, often online, and found “inspiration.”
- They had access to weapons to carry out an attack; in 80 percent of cases, guns belonged to family members, most often parents and grandparents.
These common factors say Peterson and Densley, suggest strategies to prevent school shootings from happening in the first place:
“Why School Shootings Happen” by Jillian Peterson and James Densley in Education Week, October 9, 2019 (Vol. 39, #8, p. 20), https://bit.ly/2IOD6sG; the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.