Students show a remarkable level of agreement with professionals and social commentators who have opined about this serious national issue. They agree about the revenge motive. Bullying and mistreatment create a simmering situation in those victimized. In some cases, the hurt, shame, and anger of this victimization boils over into the taking of lives. A sense of aloneness, alienation, and powerlessness set the stage for dramatic repercussions. The interpersonal climates of our schools themselves contribute to the tragedies they fear so much. We, as a society, need to be aware that we cannot just slough off the verbal, physical, and emotional hostility that students visit upon each other as "just being kids." Some of those kids, on the contrary, will come to a point where they see their only course as behaving like the worst of adults, with murderous violence.
And speaking of abuse, the emergence of witnessing and being the target of domestic violence as a cause endorsed by 54 and 61% of students respectively should place even more importance on this already identified destructive disease in our society. We already know that victims and witnesses of domestic violence are at risk of becoming perpetrators themselves as adults. The students in this survey are telling us there are some who do not wait. There are some who have learned that violence toward others is a way to solve problems. When a student like this needs a solution badly, they will hurt others as they have been hurt.
But our students also think that this is much more likely when the means for lethal violence are readily available. Ease of obtaining a gun was endorsed by 56% of respondents as a factor in school shootings. Just as many students endorsed the availability of firearms as "mental problems" as a causal factor. Without that easy road to serious violence, these risky students may exhibit aggressive, defiant, or other oppositional behavior, of course. They may hurt others in non-lethal ways. But at least these behaviors would bring them to the attention of adults in the schools as in need of intervention before tragedy occurs.
While we can be content in the knowledge that schools are essentially safe, we must worry at what seems to be a recurring phenomenon, all the more for its unpredictability. We can assuage ourselves that "it won't happen here." But we really do not know where the next "here" will be. As long as students are abused by their peers, witness or are themselves abused at home, think there is nowhere to turn, and can easily get a gun, more tragedies will occur. That's what our children are telling us.