A Clemson University study recently published in the Journal of Social Psychology compared the attributes of 57 K-12 campus shootings, 24 college shootings, and 77 mass shootings that have happened since 2001. The goal was to determine if there was a correlation between the social status of the shooters of the different occurrences. Researchers found that the shooters, particularly in K-12 instances, were more likely to be socially isolated and, according to Robin Kowalski, a Clemson University psychology professor who led the study, “just kind of hiding in the background.”
Commonalities amongst all types of shooters include being more likely to have mental health issues, problems with rejection, and having a fascination with guns and violence. However, K-12 shooters were more likely than adult shooters to have a long history of rejection, like experiencing child abuse or bullying. The adult shooters were more likely to have recently experienced a sudden, more intense rejection, such as a breakup or job loss.
A different report published recently by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation agreed with another key finding of the Clemson Study: it suggested that schools need to implement a multitiered plan for preventing school violence; combining mental health services and strong student support to stop the feeling of social isolation. The study by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation also suggested that it is imperative to have the community trained to identify warning signs and properly follow school reporting procedures.
Kowalski mentioned that while it’s important to take note of students who feel isolated or rejected as a potential warning sign, administrators need to avoid profiling students as “potential shooters”. Many students can have strong feelings of rejection—or even mental health issues—without causing violence to others.
Another key finding from the Clemson study shows that safety drills and lockdown practices can actually cause students to have more fear and decreased feelings of belonging. It can be extremely harmful if a potential future shooter is present, as this gives them insight into school lockdown plans and safety procedures, which can be used when they plan an attack.
Researchers are now conducting a follow-up study that includes digging into social media posts and other messages that shooters sent out before their attacks.
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