school culture; and the influence of violent media. The authors recommended that any sudden changes in outside interests or drug and alcohol use should be closely monitored. They also noted a copycat aspect to many of these events, as school shooters seem to be influenced by other shooting events that generate intense media scrutiny. The FBI suggests that school administrators, parents, and law enforcement officials should be more vigilant in monitoring disturbing student behavior in the months following a well-publicized incident elsewhere in the country.


The research reviewed above tends to focus on the characteristics of the offenders. It is as though an implicit assumption is being made that the character, motivation, and circumstances of the offender are the principal causes of these events; furthermore, that being able to identify such offenders before they commit these crimes would be the most obvious and most direct means of dealing with the problem. Yet other broad classes of factors may turn out to be important either as significant causes of the events, as important targets for intervention, or both. In the general research on the causes of violence, the emphasis on the offender’s individual character and motivations and the role of mental illness is often reduced in favor of other explanatory factors.

One approach emphasizes broad social factors, such as poverty, racism, and a culture of violence, that are expressed in the conduct of particular individuals. Another points to more idiosyncratic situational factors, such as unfortunate combinations of acute problems in an individual’s life with the ready availability of weapons. A reading of the general research on violence suggests a broad range of variables that may be contributing to school rampages and provides some insight on the effectiveness of interventions focused less on the stable characteristics of individuals and more on either broad social factors or situational factors.

Violence in General

In 1993, the National Research Council (NRC) published Understanding and Preventing Violence. This work is a comprehensive attempt to catalogue what is known about possible causes of violence (National Research Council, 1993–1994, 4 volumes). One of the important results of that work was the development of an analytic framework for identifying the many different possible causes of violence, shown here as Table 10-1. For our purposes, there are several important things to understand about this framework.

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