In fact, it was the idea that the subject of study was a series of incidents defined not only in terms of the amount of carnage, but also in terms of the character of the attacks and the motivation of the offenders that generated a second concept beyond the operational definition of lethal school violence that guided most of our work. After we reviewed the cases and the various literatures that seemed related to them (including the emerging literature on rampage shootings), we began referring to some of the school cases as “school rampage shootings.”
In one sense this is hardly controversial. The label “school rampages” seems a reasonable descriptor of events in which a student of a school shot at and killed members of his school community.
Yet it is worth noting that the idea of a “rampage shooting” has connotations and meanings that go beyond the operational definition we began with. The idea of a rampage, for example, suggests that an important cause of the event was the agitated, confused mental state of the perpetrator. When we refer to such events as rampages, we are already making claims about the likely causes of these events as well as their consequences.
It is also worth noting that this assigns the school shootings to a class of violence (rampages) about which there is both theoretical and empirical information (see, e.g., Fox and Levin, 1998). We could equally well have assigned these incidents to a different specialized class of violence. We could, for example, have characterized the incidents as “school mass murders” (see, e.g., McGee and DeBernardo, 1999). This would have had somewhat different connotations than school rampages. The point is that, as soon as we start using concepts that are more abstract and evocative than a specific listing of the attributes that provide the operational definition of the phenomenon we seek to measure, we are at risk of subtly biasing both our own and our audience’s understanding of the events we are trying to analyze.
To examine the choices of how to think about these relationships, the committee used a series of Venn diagrams that reveal the relationship among more or less inclusive ideas. Figure 9-1 shows the relationship between three distinct but partially overlapping sets: Set A is the idea of “lethal school violence in incidents involving more than one victim” (this was the core operational definition for most of our work); Set B is the idea of “lethal school violence” (which is the phrase we often used, but as an analytic matter would include cases in which only one person was killed); and Set C is the idea of “school rampages” (which includes cases in which more than one person was injured, and there was a significant potential for lethal violence as well as those in which people were actually killed).
As a practical matter, the violence we investigated included the union of sets A and C. The portion of Set B that involved only single victims (whether fatal or not) was excluded from the analysis. This put the pri