Lethal Violence in Schools
Why Do Shootings Occur?

Students say revenge is clearly the major reason for school shootings.

Respondents were asked to rate 16 possible reasons for school shootings on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) scale. Their answers are as follows:

Rank Reason % Agreeing
1 They want to get back at those who have hurt them. 87
2 Other kids pick on them, make fun or them, or bully them. 86
3 They don't value life. 62
4 They have been victims of physical abuse at home. 61
5 They have mental problems. 56
6 It is easy for them to get a gun. 56
7 They do not get along with their parents. 55
8 They have witnessed physical abuse at home. 54
9 They drink alcohol or use drugs. 52
10 They do not have any good friends. 49
11 They see violence on TV, in movies, in videos, and in computer and video games. 37
12 Violence is a way of life in their neighborhood. 34
13 Other kids encouraged them to do it. 28
14 Their teachers don't care about them. 26
15 They are afraid of their own safety. 20
16 They are bored. 18

For all groups of students, getting back at those who hurt them; having other kids pick on them, make fun or them or bully them; not valuing life; and being a victim of abuse were consistently among the top five reasons, regardless of what variables were used to analyze the data. Consistently ranked at the bottom among the reasons were being bored; being afraid for their own safety; and being encouraged by others to shoot.

If we look at the means of responses students offered for each of 16 reasons, we get a similar picture. The top four reasons were:

  1. Other kids pick on them, make fun of them or bully them.
  2. They want to get back at people who have hurt them.
  3. They don't value life.
  4. They have been a victim pf physical abuse at home.

There were some variations in ranking based on gender. The top five reasons endorsed by boys were: getting back at those who hurt them; other kids pick on them, make fun of them or bully them; they don't value life; they have mental problems; and they have been a victim of physical abuse at home. For girls, the top reasons were: other kids pick on them, make fun of them or bully them; they want to get back at those who have hurt them; they have been a victim of physical abuse at home; they don't value life; and they have witnessed physical abuse at home.

More than any other variables, however, media usage and race were correlated with how students perceived the causes of lethal violence.

Differences in how high, medium, and low media users perceive reasons for school shootings

Rank Reason % High % Medium % Low
1 They want to get back at those who have hurt them. 86 86 89
2 Other kids pick on them, make fun or them, or bully them. 85 85 89
3 They don't value life. 63 60 64
4 They have been victims of physical abuse at home. 56 65 62
5 They have mental problems. 57 54 56
6 It is easy for them to get a gun. 54 54 61
7 They do not get along with their parents. 50 56 60
8 They have witnessed physical abuse at home. 50 57 57
9 They drink alcohol or use drugs. 47 52 57
10 They do not have any good friends. 48 46 56
11 They see violence on TV, in movies, in videos, and in computer and video games. 28 38 46
12 Violence is a way of life in their neighborhood. 31 33 40
13 Other kids encouraged them to do it. 25 29 32
14 Their teachers don't care about them. 27 27 27
15 They are afraid of their own safety. 19 19 23
16 They are bored. 19 15 19
* boldface indicated wide variations in percentages of agreement

High media users were less likely than low media users to endorse the lack of friends; ease in getting a gun; not getting along with their parents; other kids' encouragement; violence in their neighborhoods; being victims of physical abuse themselves or witnessing physical abuse; and alcohol and drugs as reasons for violence in the schools. On each of those, the high media users were at least six percentage points, and sometimes as much as 10, below the low media users.

Differences in how students perceive reasons for school shootings by race/ethnic background

Rank Reason % White % African-American % Hispanic % Minority
1 They want to get back at those who have hurt them. 89 74 82 79
2 Other kids pick on them, make fun or them, or bully them. 87 75 88 83
3 They don't value life. 63 61 62 62
4 They have been victims of physical abuse at home. 61 55 62 60
5 They have mental problems. 56 57 58 57
6 It is easy for them to get a gun. 56 51 56 54
7 They do not get along with their parents. 55 49 56 53
8 They have witnessed physical abuse at home. 56 44 51 48
9 They drink alcohol or use drugs. 54 53 1 56
10 They do not have any good friends. 49 43 57 52
11 They see violence on TV, in movies, in videos, and in computer and video games. 37 41 37 38
12 Violence is a way of life in their neighborhood. 35 33 27 29
13 Other kids encouraged them to do it. 29 35 21 26
14 Their teachers don't care about them. 26 21 27 25
15 They are afraid of their own safety. 20 34 11 20
16 They are bored. 18 18 18 18
* boldface indicated wide variations in percentages of agreement
  • African-Americans were less likely to say that getting back at others was a reason for violence.
  • African-Americans also did not perceive bullying to be as great a problem as whites did.
  • African-Americans were far less likely to say that the lack of good friends was a cause than were Hispanics.
  • African-Americans were less likely to say that the lack of friends could be blamed for school violence, but more likely to agree that other kids' encouragement was a factor.
  • Hispanics were less likely to blame violence in their neighborhoods as a reason for violence, and were far less likely than African-Americans to say that fear for their own safety prompts school shootings.

To a slightly lesser degree, alienation correlated with what students perceive as the causes of school violence.

Differences in how students perceive reasons for school shootings according to degree of alienation

Rank Reason % High % Medium % Low
1 They want to get back at those who have hurt them. 91 89 81
2 Other kids pick on them, make fun or them, or bully them. 56 87 86
3 They don't value life. 60 65 61
4 They have been victims of physical abuse at home. 56 62 65
5 They have mental problems. 56 58 55
6 It is easy for them to get a gun. 54 60 55
7 They do not get along with their parents. 51 54 58
8 They have witnessed physical abuse at home. 50 58 55
9 They drink alcohol or use drugs. 50 53 52
10 They do not have any good friends. 49 53 58
11 They see violence on TV, in movies, in videos, and in computer and video games. 31 37 42
12 Violence is a way of life in their neighborhood. 31 38 34
13 Other kids encouraged them to do it. 28 27 29
14 Their teachers don't care about them. 30 26 24
15 They are afraid of their own safety. 22 21 18
16 They are bored. 18 19 18
* boldface indicated wide variations in percentages of agreement
  • Highly alienated students were just as likely as those with low alienation indices to blame other kids' picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them as a reason for school violence, but they were far more likely to say that getting back at someone who hurt them was a cause.
  • 91 percent of those with high alienation indices said getting back at others was a reason, compared to 81 percent of those with low alienation indices.
  • Highly alienated students were also less likely to say that being a victim of physical abuse; witnessing physical abuse in the home; or not getting along with parents were causes.

Overall, violence on TV, in movies, in videos and in computer and video games ranked 11th as a cause of lethal violence. However, there were two notable exceptions to the ranking.

  • Younger students' responses placed it eighth in the list of 16 reasons.
  • Those whose grades were mostly D's and F's ranked it ninth.

Across every variable except race, however, there were wide differences in students' ideas about media violence as a reason for school shootings. Some of the variations are:

  • 41 percent of girls said it was a cause, compared to 33 percent of boys.
  • Students whose grades were mostly D's and F's were far more likely to see it as a problem than those who received mostly B's and C's (49 percent cf. 34 percent).
  • Respondents with a low quality of life index perceived it as less of a problem than those with a high quality of life index (32 percent cf. 43 percent).
  • 46 percent of low media users endorsed violence in the media as a cause for school shootings, compared to only 28 percent of those who are high media users.
  • Highly alienated respondents were considerably less likely to see it as a problem than those with low alienation indices (31 percent cf. 42 percent).
  • Those from neighborhoods with no crime were more likely to say violence in the media is a problem than those who come from neighborhoods were there is a lot of or some crime.
  • 40 percent of the respondents who said they don't feel safe in school blamed violence in the media, compared to 37 percent of those who said their schools are extremely safe or very safe, and 34 percent of those who said their schools are safe.
  • 40 percent of rural residents and 39 percent of urban students agreed it is a problem, compared to 34 percent of suburban residents.
  • Those who live in the Midwest and South were more likely to view media violence as a cause than those who live in the East or West.
  • Respondents whose mothers had a high school education or less were more likely to blame violence in the media than those whose mothers have a college degree.
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