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School Shooting Psychological Interventions (Part 2)
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In the last section, we discussed the first three elements of a five factor model for the origin of rampage school shootings. These first three elements of five factors are the perception of marginalization, psychosocial problems, and cultural scripts supporting violence.
In this section, we will discuss the last two elements of the five factor model proposed by Newman for the origin of rampage school shootings. These last two elements are the failure of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, and gun availability. We will also discuss a technique for risk assessment when considering violating the client confidentiality boundary.
Origins of Rampage Continued (Elements #4 & #5)
♦ Element # 4 - Failure of Surveillance
The fourth element of Newman’s five factor model is the failure of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify warning signs. According to Newman, one aspect of this failure is that many of these surveillance systems are looking in the wrong place. In terms of disciplinary and academic history, only a minority of shooters had been in trouble with the school system.
Only a small fraction had been reported for disobeying authority or fighting. Likewise, only a small portion of the shooters had a record of poor or declining grades leading up to the incident. Although one would expect attackers to display a downward spiral in grades, friendship patterns, interest in school, and increased disciplinary problems, these only occur in a minority of cases. Evan Ramsey in fact displayed an increase in academic performance leading up to the shooting.
Clearly, the aspects of this fourth factor of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, seem to be rather unhelpful. At face value, they seem only to reinforce the view that since these children fly so well under the radar, identifying them early is next to impossible. However, Newman’s fourth factor does offer warning signs that occur in some of the cases, and even if a child is not necessarily at risk for becoming a shooter, any child displaying these signs should be evaluated more deeply.
Three Warning Signs to Enhance Surveillance
--1. Violent Writings, especially in otherwise reserved students, are one concerning sign, and although not present in the majority of cases of rampage shootings, about two out of five cases do turn in violent writings at school.
--2. Likewise, run-ins with the legal system are not present in the majority of cases, but are certainly concerning. However, even when students have been in trouble with the law, these incidents often escape the notice of the school system. Columbine High School was unaware that in 1998, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been arrested for breaking into a van and stealing tools. The boys were required to attend a juvenile diversion program for one year; Once they completed the program, their records were wiped clean.
--3. The most noticeable and telling aspect of the fourth factor of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, is perhaps the presence of threats, as we discussed in a previous section. In most of the incidents Newman studied, more than one individual was informed beforehand. However, in general only students were aware of the threats.
♦ Element # 5 - Access to Guns
The fifth factor in Newman’s five factor model is access to guns. In only one case Newman studied were the shooter’s guns not acquired from the shooter’s own home, or that of his extended family or friends. Although Newman does not convey an opinion that guns cause the violence, she does point out that without guns, rampage school shootings would not occur.
In terms of using these five factors to develop a better surveillance strategy for identifying youths at risk for explosive violence, I advise considering gun availability in relation to the other factors. Clearly, if threats and suicidal behavior, for example, are present, it is worth investigating the availability of guns to the youth at an early stage.
Although no assessment technique for the risk of explosive violence has proved foolproof, Newman recommends the following Violence Risk Assessment technique to school staff. This technique has two parts. The first part is an assessment checklist for elementary age students; The second part focuses on high school students. It is important to note that these are risk assessment tools for violence, not specifically school shootings. I advise school staff to use this technique in conjunction with Newman’s five factor model to improve behavioral surveillance strategies.
Violence Risk Assessment checklist for elementary school age children when considering violating the client confidentiality boundary:
Has trouble paying attention and concentrating.
Often disrupts classroom activities.
Does poorly in school.
Frequently gets into fights with other children in school.
Reacts to disappointments, criticism or teasing with extreme and intense anger, blame or revenge.
Watches many violent television shows and movies or plays a lot of violent video games.
Has few friends, and is often rejected by other children because of his/her behavior.
Makes friends with other children known to be unruly or aggressive.
Consistently does not listen to adults.
Is not sensitive to the feelings of others.
Is cruel or violent toward pets or other animals.
Is easily frustrated.
Violence risk assessment in high school age children when considering violating the client confidentiality boundary:
Consistently does not listen to authority figures.
Pays no attention to the feelings or rights of others.
Mistreats people and seems to rely on physical violence or threats of violence to solve problems.
Often expresses the feeling that life has treated him/her unfairly.
Does poorly in school and often skips class.
Misses school frequently for no identifiable reason.
Gets suspended from or drops out of school.
Joins a gang, gets involved in fighting, or steals or destroys property.
Drinks alcohol and/or uses inhalants or drugs.
Think of a client whom you are counseling, or a school to which you are consulting. Would providing these violence risk assessments be of use to him or her? How would you introduce this assessment technique to insure the client understands how to implement the technique without violating student’s rights?
In this section, we have discussed the last two elements of the five factor model proposed for the origin of rampage school shootings. These last two elements are the failure of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, and gun availability. We also discussed a technique for risk assessment.
- Newman, Katherine S; Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings; Basic Books: New York; 2004
In the next section, we will discuss four steps that can be used to help prevent school shootings. These four steps are adjusting the radar, school resource officers, leavening social capital and tweaking adolescent culture, and a zero tolerance policy.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Markey, P. M., Ivory, J. D., Slotter, E. B., Oliver, M. B., & Maglalang, O. (2019). He does not look like video games made him do it: Racial stereotypes and school shootings. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication.
Raitanen, J., & Oksanen, A. (2019). Deep interest in school shootings and online radicalization. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6(3-4), 159–172.
Séguin, M., Chawky, N., Lesage, A., Boyer, R., Guay, S., Bleau, P., Miquelon, P., Szkrumelak, N., Steiner, W., & Roy, D. (2013). Evaluation of the Dawson College shooting psychological intervention: Moving toward a multimodal extensive plan. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(3), 268–276.
According to Newman, what is the role of gun availability in rampage school shootings?
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