Tuesday, March 06, 2018

On school shootings, studying

I am going to write the five common factors in school shootings from the book. It feels like cheating, because I had written them up with my notes in my Goodreads review from when I read the book in October 2016, then recently on Facebook. Still, going over them again could be helpful.

Before that, though, I want to reiterate that the authors - Katherine S. Newman, Cybelle Fox, David Harding, Jal Mehta, and Wendy Roth - did exhaustive research. They interviewed people who went to schools where there were shootings, people who had contact with the shooters after they were detained, teachers, students, family, community members, and the shooters when possible. They searched archives going back for decades. They gathered as much information as they could and then put it together, giving each other feedback. They did that, and they knew there were limitations to what they could know, but they put in a huge effort.

It sounds logical that the results of their efforts should be more reliable than the opinion of someone who picking facts that support their pre-existing agenda. That sounds logical, but we need to remember that when the conversation is about guns, many people have specifically rejected research. This includes taking away the Center for Disease Control's funding for studying gun violence in 1996, and continuing to renew the ban. Even Jay Dickey, who led the charge, decided it was wrong before he died, but the amendment stands. There is opposition to study:


There are also many prohibitions on keeping data on existing gun sales, making tracing guns used in crimes much harder than television would have you believe:


Suggestions are constantly criticized as showing that those making the suggestions know nothing about guns, but if ignorance is a bad source for deciding policy, we should not be enforcing ignorance.

I point this out because as much as we do need more knowledge, we may need to end opposition to gathering and using knowledge even more.

(And, if the argument is that the weapon on its own isn't that deadly without modifications like a bump stock, and you still resist controls on bump stocks, at some point we have to question sincerity, but I'm not going to focus on that right now.)

Okay, so what did the authors of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings conclude?

1. The first necessary factor is the shooter's perception of himself as extremely marginal in the social worlds that matter to him. 

This is interesting because often when we talk about marginalization, we are referring to minorities, but the bulk of the shooters are white and male and straight, and should be the opposite of marginalized. However, it's the social group that matters. (How you relate to society as a whpole affects different things.) Yes, some of the shooters were picked on at times, but they also picked on other kids. Generally the shooters have friends, they may date, but they don't feel valued enough by their group, and that will often come down to whether they can be tough enough and cool enough.

2. Second, school shooters must suffer from psychosocial problems that magnify the impact of marginality. 

There was really only one who seemed to be on the verge of developing a true mental illness from the case studies I have read. There can be other things that damage perception, and make things look worse.

3. Cultural scripts -- prescriptions for behavior -- must be available to lead the way for an armed attack.

There was a time when seeing the wrong movie or playing the wrong video game could make that worse, but at this point there is no way for a child to not know that mass shootings are a possibility; they have become too common. We can hope that if we can change the way they are perceived, so that they don't look like a way of showing everyone and dominating others, but we can't undo the knowledge. Perhaps some of the demonstrations that teens are participating in now are the best examples of empowerment that is not harmful to others.

4. The fourth necessary factor is a failure of surveillance systems that are intended to identify troubled teens before their problems become extreme.

If there is an upside to teens knowing about the risk of school shootings, it may be that teens are much more willing to report on potential shooters now, and prioritize that over the stigma of snitching. We are all able to conceive the worst after multiple times of seeing it happen, and we take it more seriously. However, it is even better if we see that someone is down, or feels worthless, or needs help before they start thinking about harming others. Are we on the ball there?

5. Finally, we come to gun availability.

Most of these notes are pretty different from my review (I'll link to it at the bottom). That's not that I have changed my mind, but I have new, additional thoughts now. Tthis one is the same: the Jonesboro shooters tried to take guns from their parents first, but the guns were locked up and they couldn't get in. Then at the grandparents' house the guns were only secured with a cable that they were able to cut. Yes, they were determined enough to go to more than one house, but I don't think they would have kept going indefinitely. Lives could have been saved.

We talk about shootings with the same fatalism where we talk about suicides - if they are determined you can't stop them. That is a lie. People get dissuaded from attempts all the time, and it leads to life.

That's worth fighting for.


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