Myth 13: School shootings are an epidemic.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (in their report “The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective”) cautions that people should be cynical about news coverage of school shootings. The FBI says that the news coverage of those events are “inherently hasty” and rely on “sources who themselves have incomplete or inaccurate information”. They also say to be wary of reports issued by academics, researchers, and other specialists because they frequently lack critical confidential information that is only available to law enforcement officials.

Here are a few myths that the news media has perpetuated about school shooters that the FBI says are just plain wrong:

  • School violence is an epidemic.
  • All school shooters are alike.
  • The school shooter is always a loner.
  • School shootings are exclusively revenge motivated.
  • Easy access to weapons is THE most significant risk factor

The FBI says that “Unusual or aberrant behaviors, interests, hobbies, etc., are hallmarks of the student destined to become violent” and that you can’t easily identify would-be violent criminals or pigeon-hole people with one suspicious characteristic as potentially violent. Identifying a violent personality involves assessing a person’s personality traits and behavior, family dynamics, school dynamics, and social dynamics.

It is easy to imagine ways that a home environment could contribute to the creation of a violent student, but can the school itself be a negative influence? One way the school dynamic factors in is if bullying is part of the school culture, ranging from aggressive behavior among students to inequitable application of discipline by teachers and administrators. Other factors include inflexible and insensitive relationships among students and staff, students and staff giving preferential treatment to a chosen few, students don’t trust staff members enough to divulge concerns, and the internet is unsupervised and unmonitored.

In short, it takes a perfect storm of factors to create a well rounded violent criminal who will act on his impulses. Such a meeting of factors is rare. And since the FBI has issued their school shooter threat assessment report, schools are even more aware of how they can help identify and prevent future threats. It is extremely unlikely that your child’s school is currently incubating a future school-shooter. Lice and foul language are probably the most evil villains you will have to fight this year.

Learn More

The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective by Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

How is this for taking the wrong end of the stick?  Instead of working on creating a supportive environment for disturbed children, some schools think it is more helpful to disturb the children with the threat of school shooters: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/do-kids-really-need-school-shooting-drills/#comment-3469

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