By Michelle Silver
Sadly, school shootings have become a topic we discuss all too often. Gone are the days you could send your children to school on the school bus and know they would be safe for the day. But what changes have taken place over the past 20 years that have turned innocent children into killers? Who deserves the blame—the individual, parents, society? It is easiest to blame the killer for taking the lives of others. However, perhaps environmental characteristics provide more insight about what has led to the increased number of school shootings over the past two decades.
Schools are places within communities that nearly everybody has a connection to in one way or another. Overall, they represent academic growth and positive youth development, however, they are also the locations where many people have some of their first negative encounters (Hall & Friedman, 2013). Schools provide access to many people at one time, which can present an ideal situation for a shooter if he/she wants to harm as many people as possible.
Students that commit school shootings are frequently labeled as troubled individuals that are bullied or social outcasts. Oftentimes they have family and peer relationship problems and mental health issues. Combine that with a large school setting where they are largely ignored by teachers and students and it can be a recipe for disaster. Fatal school shootings are more common in urban, predominately minority middle-high schools that are publicly funded. Only 2 out of 134 school shootings since 1966 took place at private schools (De Apodaca, Brighton, Perkins, Jackson, & Steege, 2012). Researchers hypothesize this to be the case because of more homogeneity among students in private schools, while public schools tend to bring together a more diverse group.
Despite efforts to increase school safety and a recent $29 million dollar increase from Congress, bringing the total budget to promote school safety up to $140 million dollars, there have been no major decreases in the number of school shootings (Fox News, 2014). Yet 90% of schools in the US have taken increased security measures since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, so therefore we are not allocating resources effectively. Perhaps funds would be more effective if they were used to implement school depression and mental illness screenings for all students, and to develop programs for youth with mental health problems. All too often mentally unstable individuals get their hands on guns, in which case our prevention efforts fail. Discussions about firearm possession and usage should also become a routine part of regular physician appointments when talking about other risk behaviors such as drugs and alcohol usage.
While there is no simple answer of who is to blame for the increase in school shootings and no one best way to prevent them, multi-level interventions have great potential. Due to the increase in individuals with mental health issues slipping through the cracks, our focus must shift to fix the system so that these individuals are identified early, get the help they need, and are not able to get their hands on a gun.