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Other views: Red Lake reflected in study

Prior to the Red Lake School shooting, my students and I had just completed a three week exercise reviewing the school shooting and rampage school shooting literature. After a careful scrutiny of this literature, my students walked away from this...

Prior to the Red Lake School shooting, my students and I had just completed a three week exercise reviewing the school shooting and rampage school shooting literature. After a careful scrutiny of this literature, my students walked away from this class knowing the following:

- That there are differences in the nature and scope of school shootings versus rampage school shootings. A rampage school shooting defines an incident in which an individual or two attempts to eliminate multiple victims. The latter incidents occur in the school and almost exclusively occur in smaller towns rich in social capital.

- That there are patterns of characteristics of both shooters and the settings in which they perpetrate their crimes that facilitate some insight into preventing further shootings.

- That focusing on a single causal risk factor for rampage school shootings is a dead end exercise in preventing further incidents.

Specifically, the rampage school shooting literature leads us to the following causal risk factors and prevention solutions:

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- That most rampage school shooters are marginal students residing in a community high on social capital and attending a school where they do not fit in. In many ways it is tougher for marginal students in these settings because these schools and communities offer fewer alternative activities to assist students in forging identities.

- That most of these students have been teased, harassed, and bullied for lacking some elements of masculinity

- That most of these students exhibit sub-threshold forms of mental illness that has lacked identification because these school districts lack resources to diagnose and treat. Further, many of these students fall under the radar because they are not the most threatening students in the school.

- That many of these students have been the victim of cultural scripts that delimit options for adequately coping with their difficult life circumstances. This includes being reluctant to report their problems to an adult for fear of being de-masculinized and/or fearing that adults will not take action.

- That many people, including the peer group, teachers, and adults in the community have disturbing information about these shooters that is never adequately communicated. In 80 percent of these shootings, shooters gave explicit signals that they planned on carrying their grievances beyond the verbal level. Schools on the other hand have gone too far in protecting student records to avoid stigmatizing children, such that adequate information sharing does not occur.

- That most shooters verbalized their intentions to other marginalized students.

When these students called their bluff, the shooters felt that the only way to reclaim any status would be to take the hypermasculine exit.

If we wish to prevent further incidents we will need to (1) work on finding ways to encourage adolescents to come forward with disturbing information about their peers; (2) infuse more school counselors and school resource officers into the schools; (3) modify how the schools report behavioral problems among students, (4) develop zero tolerance policies surrounding bullying and harassment, (5) expand activity opportunities for students in smaller school districts, and (6) find ways to encourage adults to share disturbing information about children in densely tied communities.

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Thompson is professor of criminal justice at

North Dakota State University.

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