How School Shootings Spread

by William Skink

In a post titled Not Guns Again, Pete an anecdotal story from a shooting Pete Talbot covered as a journalist 16 years ago seems to indicate a background check at the Spokane gun show the Glock was purchased at could have stopped the mentally ill felon from buying the gun. I’m sure the crazy ex-con would have been so deterred at that point to not try and buy a gun elsewhere, right?

In that post I mentioned in the comments the sensationalizing media attention being a factor in perpetuating mass-shootings, and (not seriously) asked if we should pass an ordinance limiting media coverage of these horrific tragedies. To dismiss this sentiment, another comment said this: yeah these shooter gunnuts enjoy basking in their posthumous infamy.

That dismissive comment misses the point. Luckily we have Malcolm Gladwell at the New Yorker taking a closer look at How School Shootings Spread. I recommend reading the whole article. Here is one excerpt to start us off:

School shootings are a modern phenomenon. There were scattered instances of gunmen or bombers attacking schools in the years before Barry Loukaitis, but they were lower profile. School shootings mostly involve young white men. And, not surprisingly, given the ready availability of firearms in the United States, the phenomenon is overwhelmingly American. But, beyond those facts, the great puzzle is how little school shooters fit any kind of pattern.

To try and put the pieces of this puzzle together, Gladwell examines the group dynamics of riots. More from the link:

In a famous essay published four decades ago, the Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter set out to explain a paradox: “situations where outcomes do not seem intuitively consistent with the underlying individual preferences.” What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right? Granovetter took riots as one of his main examples, because a riot is a case of destructive violence that involves a great number of otherwise quite normal people who would not usually be disposed to violence.

Most previous explanations had focussed on explaining how someone’s beliefs might be altered in the moment. An early theory was that a crowd cast a kind of intoxicating spell over its participants. Then the argument shifted to the idea that rioters might be rational actors: maybe at the moment a riot was beginning people changed their beliefs. They saw what was at stake and recalculated their estimations of the costs and benefits of taking part.

But Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

Gladwell has an interesting argument here about how contagious behavior spreads. For those who want to actually understand this phenomena instead of making symbolic gestures that will have little impact on stopping the next mass-casualty, it’s a must read.

The Columbine tragedy gets especially close attention paid to it by Gladwell because it has been the template over which others have added their own twisted death tolls:

The first seven major shooting cases—Loukaitis, Ramsey, Woodham, Carneal, Johnson and Golden, Wurst, and Kinkel—were disconnected and idiosyncratic. Loukaitis was obsessed with Stephen King’s novel “Rage” (written under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman), about a high-school student who kills his algebra teacher with a handgun. Kip Kinkel, on the morning of his attack, played Wagner’s “Liebestod” aria over and over. Evan Ramsey’s father thought his son was under the influence of the video game Doom. The parents of several of Michael Carneal’s victims sued the makers and distributors of the movie “The Basketball Diaries.”

Then came Columbine. The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. They had a Web site. They made home movies starring themselves as hit men. They wrote lengthy manifestos. They recorded their “basement tapes.” Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold. Of the eleven school shootings outside the United States between 1999 and 2007, Larkin says six were plainly versions of Columbine; of the eleven cases of thwarted shootings in the same period, Larkin says all were Columbine-inspired.

While the article is fascinating and in many ways deeply disturbing, there is nothing in terms of a solution offered by the author. The script established by Eric Harris is being revised by a new generation of young men. The riot is spreading.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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14 Responses to How School Shootings Spread

  1. Turner says:

    I see that CounterPunch is out of money and in danger of having to shut down. Maybe I’ll send them a contribution. I never knew they were located in Petrolia, near where I went to college years ago.

  2. So much information I hidden away in books – there never was a MKULTRA or Operation Gladio or strategy of tension. American intelligence has never figured out how to use social media to instigate rebellion in countries they want to disrupt. They’ve never studied crowd control or behavior. CIA was never in the drug business. JFK committed suicide in public, RFK killed from behind by a bullet from the front, and planes can fly through buildings like a knife through butter, a man who lost his legs lives for a long time by sitting upright in a wheel chair. Newton’s laws are just suggestions and can on occasion be set aside.

    Gladwell is good when it comes to undoing wine snobs in public and a host of other interesting topics. But if he approaches a subject like our regular mass shootings with the attitude that they have to be natural and a result of some underlying motive having to do with unfathomable psychology, and blots out every other possibility, as he has, then he is just like everyone else who is allowed access to mainstream publications … he has his head up his ass.

    • I think to the degree that you attribute everything to CIA subterfuge, sometimes you also exhibit head-up-ass syndrome. I don’t automatically just discount something because it comes from a mainstream publication. there is useful information to be gleaned from all kinds of media.

      • Always the jump to extremes – it must be either or. Here’s my point: There is enough evidence to point to events like Boston and Sandy Hook as put-up jobs with no real casualties. Even here in Aurora, James Holmes was obviously drugged into a stupor. Given that , ALL such incidents needed to be treated with great skepticism, waiting for evidence to accumulate before jumping to the conclusion that they are as presented. I’ve seen enough to presume that they are false until proven true.

        I suggested to Talbot that he wait to pass judgment on Roseburg until we had some private research – direction of bullets, interviews with witnesses, done on it. He said I was “mad” – get that? To be skeptical in our empire is to be mad. That, to me, is a form of madness.

        Gladwell himself admits that these events are rare in history. He has not questioned the validity of any of them. If he did, he would not be published. I suggest to read the link provided by SK below to get an idea of the depth of our madness.

        (CIA is but one of a score of intelligence agencies, the most well known, but military intelligence is a far more likely culprit. And again, it is all accessible.)

  3. PS: This link given my by SK over at my blog goes a long way in undressing the psychological covers for what is a country run by insane people. The source material is a book called Political Ponerology by the Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski, who describes in detail the disintegration of a society into our state after a minority of psychopaths have inserted themselves in critical positions of power. He experienced it first hand under Stalin, and saw it encroaching on American society 1980 forward. (I would say 1947.)

    We do not have to believe everything we are told. We are allowed to question authority. This link does a very nice summary of the book, which I read several years back.×3141216

  4. Here is a checklist I wrote some time ago to assist in determining if these events are real or staged:

    ◾Verify by independent means that the victims were real people who really died that day.
    ◾Verify by independent means that the alleged shooter was a real person.
    ◾If it is determined that alleged shooter was real, do a deep background check on him, find out his acquaintances and friends, and associations. The object would be to see if he was manipulated by others to be where he was that day, and if he has been used by others, possibly sheepdipped and set up as a patsy.
    ◾Find out the number of shots fired, their source and direction, and caliber bullet to see if they came from one gun only.
    ◾Find out if there were any civilian, police or military training drills going on in that area at that time. (Such drills are the lever by which government resources are used – the drills can be “flipped live” to make fake events real.*)

  5. As always, the silence is deafening. I repeat my message to American liberals and pwoggies:

    These attitudes you have adopted – I know they comfort you. You are indifferent and incurious about the important events of our times. You are smug about it, thinking yourself wise to be so. But I must advise you that from a distance your attitude is indistinguishable from stupidity..

    • I’m surprised you can sense silence when you’re doing so much commenting. I look at the recent comments sidebar and all I see is feet.

      • No one more aware of that than me.

        I am usually embarrassed about it. I’ll try to knock it off. It would be nice to get into a substantive debate with folks, but unless we talk elections, there is no interest.

        My bad, anyway. I know this.

        • Rob Kailey says:

          Mark, when you have predetermined *loudly* what evidence is permissible and what is not, then you have simply made “debate” impossible. You’ve also laid the foundation, yet again, for your continuing Ad Hominem smears about everyone else’s mental state and acuity. All that is left possible at that point is adoration of your authority, or a dispute about it which you dismiss with practiced ease. After all, it’s all about you.

          It really is your bad, and few believe for even a second that you feel one iota of embarrassment about it.

        • You usually wait until you are sure I cannot respond before you lay into me. What’s up? Grew a set?

          Anyway, getting lectured by the likes of you is a new low for me. Time to quit.

        • Rob Kailey says:

          I have certain knowledge of your schedule now? That ridiculous assumption is precisely what I was pointing out, Mark. You don’t want debate. You want it to be about you. That’s why you are toxic at other websites, and why it really is time for you to quit.

        • You’ll be free to roam, jackass.

  6. Big Swede says:

    Numbers should be put in the right perspective when talking about school shootings. One thing is sure our population has quadrupled from 1900 to 2000 meaning we are to expect some form of correlation when it comes to these tragedies.

    Then again we can over sensationalize.

    >>Dear Lobo Parents,

    This morning we received a report from a student [in Hays County, Texas] that there was allegedly a weapon on campus. After investigating the concern, it was determined that a student thought he heard the word “gun,” but in fact it was another student asking for some “gum.”

    The safety of our students is always foremost on our list of priorities, so we take these concerns seriously. We continue to encourage students to report anything they see or hear that causes them concern. Fortunately, in this case, it was a misunderstanding and there was no threat to our school or need to conduct a lockdown.

    Because we are conducting the PSAT, we were able to hold students in their extended class periods to investigate the concern with little to no disruption to their schedule.


    Michelle Chae
    Principal, LHS<<

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