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School Shootings and Their Causes

On April 20, 1999, in the moderately sized town of Littleton, Colorado, at approximately 11:20 a. m. , two young men, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed into Columbine High School. No more than twenty minutes later, 15 people were dead, including the two of them, and another twenty-three wounded (Gibbs 28-29). Knowing that the duo are teenagers, and probably played many violent video games and watched hundreds of violent shows, people immediately began to blame the media, and the violence that these young men had been exposed to by it.

But is it the media that is to blame or all these deaths? Is it violent movies, television shows, music, and video games that made these two, and other killers like them, do what they did? In this paper I plan to discuss the happenings at Columbine and the recent similar assaults that have occurred on schools, but more specifically I plan to concluded what caused these kids to do what they did, with a focus on media violence as the primary reason.

As I begin this paper I don’t personally believe that media violence is to blame for all these shootings, I may not know why the kids did what they did, but I can’t see them killing classmates ecause of a movie they saw, a song they listened to, a show they watched, or a video game they played. Through this paper I plan to either further my belief of this, or possibly prove otherwise and change my views. The recent explosion in media coverage of Columbine made it seem like it was a random event, which we’ve never seen the likes of before, but many crimes like this have happened before.

Since February of 1996, there has been six other “high profile” school violence cases like Columbine. The first of these was committed by Barry Loukaitis, 14, on Feb. 2, 1996. Loukaitis killed three people, and injured one ther, with a rifle that he got from home. On Oct. 1, 1997 Luke Woodham, 16, killed two people and his mother, and wounded another 7, also with a rifle that he got from home. Two months later, on Dec. 1, 1997, Michael Carneal, 14, killed 3 students, and wounded 5 others with a pistol that he stole from his neighbor. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, killed 5 people, and wounded another 10 on Mar. 4, 1998, with 3 rifles and 7 handguns that they got from their relatives.

On May 21, 1998, Kipland Kinkel, 15, killed 2 students, and wounded 20 others with 2 pistols and a semiautomatic rifle that he owned. The most famous of the list, Columbine, was committed by Harris, and Klebold, who killed 13, and injured another 23, with a handgun, a rifle, two shotguns, and numerous homemade bombs. The latest of these school shootings occurred exactly one month after Columbine, on May 20, 1999, when Thomas Solomon, 15, wounded 6 students with a rifle that he got from home.

All of the shooters are now in some form of a jail, whether it be prison, or a detention center, with, of course, the exception of Klebold and Harris, who committed suicide. The rest are serving a total of seven life sentences, with three in uvenile detention centers, and a fourth is still awaiting trial (Cloud 36-37). Although many people think that this sort of thing only happens in large, high capacity schools like Columbine, with an attendance of almost 2,000, the largest of the group by more than 500, it doesn’t. The school that Golden and Johnson attacked was a school of just 250 students.

The real reasons for all of these shootings is unknown, but family problems is probably not a major factor in all cases except for Loukaitis, whose suicidal mother was about to divorce his father, and Woodham, whose father left the family when he was 11. All the others had two-parent families with no serious problems. Another possible cause would be the immediate situation that the person, or persons, were in. Of the seven most recent instances those possible motives range from being teased, and publicly humiliated, to breaking up with girlfriends, and impending expulsion from school.

All of the shooters had various mental health issues, and those are generally considered to be the most prominent of causes for the shootings. Collectively the group was taking three different kinds of mind altering drugs; Luvox, Prozac, and Ritalin. In act, Seven of the nine shooters were considered to be depressed (Cloud 36-37). It is all these factors that are considered to be possible reasons for the shootings, but that one other possible reason, media violence, seems to be what everyone wants to blame these shootings on.

Generally considered to be a major factor in all of these shootings is media violence. Marilyn Manson music is one of the most common cultural influences listed, with Woodham, Kinkel, Harris, and Klebold all known to have listened to it. The very popular first-person shooter games Doom and Quake were both favorites of Carneal, Harris, and Klebold (Cloud 36-37).

Harris even went as far as to say “It’s gonna be like f_ing Doom, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick (A representation of the Doom theme)…Haa! That f_ing shot gun is straight out of Doom (Roche 42-43). Mortal Kombat, another particularly violent game was also a favorite of Golden, Johnson, and Solomon (Cloud 36-37). But are these games to blame? I personally have played all of them and I seem fine, but it has been said that “not everyone who plays these games will become a murderer, just as not everyone who smokes gets cancer, but they all get sickened (Quittner 54). ” For a view of what teens think about this issue, a survey was taken by approximately 50 Ramapo High School Students, it showed that kids here don’t really think that the media is to blame.

Four questions were asked and the results are: To the question “How likely is it that an incident similar to the one in Littleton, Colorado, would occur here? ” 24% said very or somewhat likely, and 76% said not very or not likely at all. To the question “Has this incident given ideas to troubled kids at Ramapo to do something similar? ” 18% said Yes 92% said No.

Violence in Video Games: 56% Very/Somewhat likely 44% Not very likely/Not at all likely. This survey showed that, for the most part, teens believe that all of the possibilities listed are pretty much to blame for Columbine, but it wasn’t violence in various forms that was thought to be the most likely cause, it was the availability of guns to the duo that was to blame. Before researching this paper, I didn’t really believe that media violence, in it’s many forms, was to blame for killings like Columbine.

I had been exposed to many of the same things that all these kids had, I played Doom, Quake and Mortal Kombat, I listened to bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, Kid Rock, Tupac and Nirvana, I saw movies like Natural Born Killers and Basketball Diaries. So how could people try to blame these for what happened at Columbine? I always figured that the kids were just messed up in the head, and the fact that they had an arsenal of guns at their disposal didn’t help either. In fact, all of the killers listed earlier got their guns from home, neighbors, relatives or friends.

So maybe it sn’t media violence that is to blame, maybe it’s the incompetence of people that give these kids access to all these guns, and maybe the kids were just crazy. Adults do things like this all the time and most of them are said to be crazy, so why couldn’t the kids be? Before writing this paper I didn’t think media violence was to blame, but I wasn’t sure what was. After writing it, I know media violence is not to blame, but now I that it may have contributed. I also think that the availability of guns and psyche problems are to blame too, along with many other unnamed factors.

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