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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Because illegal gun carrying increases with age, it is important to develop research that will inform prevention or deterrence strategies. The sources of the firearms carried and used in the cases in this volume were friends, especially gang friends, and parents or friends, from whom they were stolen. It was extremely easy for these boys to get weapons, and in most of the cases, they were familiar with their use.
The committee recommends that a program of research be developed to further examine illegal gun carrying by adolescents, especially carrying a gun to school. This research should examine the circumstances and motivations related to illegal gun carrying, the sources of and ease of access to guns, socialization to illegal gun use, and the relationship, if any between legal and illegal gun use by adolescents.
Individual Risk Factors for Violent Behavior in School
The extensive and sound knowledge base on risk factors for delinquency and violent behavior, which can be used to design prevention programs, would not have helped identify the young people in most of these cases as high risk. Most of the shooters in the cases studied were not thought to be at high risk by the adults around them. While some of them had one or two risk factors, none had the multiple, high-risk factors described in longitudinal studies of delinquency that normally presage violent acts.
However, among the eight shooters in this set of cases, the specter of developing mental illness surfaced for five of the boys. In most cases, other than attention deficit disorder, the presence of serious mental illnesses can be difficult to detect in youth ages 11–15. This is particularly true of those who encounter high levels of violence in their everyday lives. In its examination of these cases, the committee found symptoms of mild and severe depression, stress disorders, personality disorders, and developing schizophrenia in these youth. Suicidal thinking was a prominent feature in all of the suburban and rural cases in this study and in many such cases studied by others. Greater research attention is needed to determine how and when mental illness begins to develop in young adolescents, how the social environment inside or outside school contributes to the development of pathology, and how it becomes manifest in the behavior of youth in this age group.
The committee concludes that empirical research is needed to measure the prevalence of developing mental illness in young adolescents. We recommend that public health surveillance research methods be applied to the identification of risk factors and signs or symptoms of developing, serious mental illness in children in grades 6–10. Such a research effort might include the development of new, culturally appropriate in