Columbine and Norway Killings

July 24, 2011 at 3:39 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Intersections between the Columbine and Norway killings are barely being touched upon so far, but at least one concerns the fiery issue of gun control.

Reporters, understandably, are focused on getting out the details before trying to make sense of them. The New York Times is now saying 93 dead in the Oslo bombing and nearby shootings allegedly undertaken by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. The Times is also noting 96 ­injured.

Norway, according to various postings, seems to have strict gun control. The Times had this:

“Arild Groven, secretary general of the Norwegian Shooting Association, a sports shooting group, confirmed that Mr. Breivik had belonged to Oslo Pistolklubb, one of the 520 clubs in the association, which has 30,000 members.

“‘We all read and watch the news about ­­the shootings in the United States,’ Mr. Groven said. ‘But it doesn’t happen here.’


“He said the process of obtaining a handgun license for sports shooting was strict, requiring a safety certification and a police background check.”

This is not meant to be a pro or anti gun control posting. But what may be strict gun control in Norway will support those who say gun control is not the answer.

Gun control did flare as an issue after Columbine. Tom Mauser, the father of slain Columbine student Daniel Mauser, took it up after the April 20, 1999 shootings that left 15 dead, including the two killers.­­

The Columbine killers showed great determination in carrying out their act. The $64,000 question is whether they would have given up at some point if it had been harder to obtain guns, or kept going until they found a way to obtain the weapons. I have blogged about mass killings in China that have shades of Columbine, despite strict gun control in that country.

The other question I would raise is whether the Norway shootings would have occurred without Columbine. The perpetrators may have different motivations. But incidents like Columbine and Oklahoma City build upon themselves and give people the idea that a mass killing is the art of the possible.

The Columbine Mirror

May 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Imagine holding the Columbine shootings — and some of its controversies — up to a mirror. Can gun control prevent school shootings? Can shutting out news of school attacks help prevent them?

Showing us that mirror is what the New York Times did today with its story on school attacks in China.

The Times reports, “At least 17 people have been killed — mostly children — and dozens injured in the series of attacks, which began in March. In each case, a middle-aged man acting alone set upon children with knives or tools.”

Which brings up the issue of gun control and the perennial question (at least in the United States) of whether stricter controls could prevent school shootings. Now, I do not mean to take sides on the issue, but here would seem to be an interesting case study. “Shooting rampages are rare in China,” the Times says. “It is difficult to buy guns of any kind here. Sharp objects and tools are the weapons of choice for homicides.”

And so it would seem that if someone is interested in rampage, they will get the weapon at hand. I would also point out that while it would seem guns would generally cause more deaths, the number killed in the latest attack seems staggering: “A man with a kitchen cleaver rampaged through a kindergarten in rural northern China on Wednesday, and state media said he hacked to death seven children and two adults before returning home and killing himself,” according to The Times.

The suicide issue is also important. As I point out in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story suicide is an undercurrent in school shootings. The Columbine killers were unusually successful in that they killed themselves, yet other shooters who have been captured express a desire to have died in the course their rampage.

The Times reports that the Chinese attacks have been covered in the media, although after the first stories, “the government has been carefully censoring subsequent stories, perhaps to prevent other copycat murders, or perhaps to play down any suggestion of dysfunction within Chinese society.”

One Chinese newspaper fought back and editorialized, “It is undeniable that the media’s coverage on these incidents of bloodshed may ‘inspire’ potential killers, but it will educate more people by raising awareness of self-protection and spur the authorities, and this is the role that media should play in the society.”

Given the debate over bullying at Columbine, there is another interesting reference in The Times China piece. It comes from the same newspaper editorial that questioned the censorship:

“On Wednesday, Dahe Bao, a newspaper in Henan Province, quickly posted on the Internet a fiery editorial that pointed to misbehavior by government officials as the root cause of the problem.

“‘After being treated unfairly or being bullied by the authorities, and unable to take revenge on those government departments that are safeguarded by state security forces, killers have to let out their hatred and anger on weaker people, and campuses have become the first choice,’ said the editorial, signed by a writer named Shi Chuan.”

Columbine and Malik Nadal Hasan Fort Hood shooting

November 5, 2009 at 8:56 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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As I reflected on Columbine and Malik Nadal Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting, one word stuck in my mind.


Texas, to me, says the South and therefore the culture of honor.(Encyclopedia Britannica online lists Texas as the South although I understand some might say Texas is just Texas). Colorado, where Columbine occurred, is the West. But the West, as I point out in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, also retains a culture of honor.

Simply put, that concept allows people to believe that if they have been slighted – if their honor has been violated – that it is OK to retaliate with violence. It is similar to the idea of taking the law into your own hands – being a sheriff in your own hearth, as one saying goes – and extracting your own revenge. I should add that news reports say Hasan grew up in Virgina and graduated from Virginia Tech, firmly in the South and the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history with 33 dead, including the gunman.

The news reports are early and ever-changing (with the recent surprise that Hasan is alive). But a couple items may point to Hasan’s wanting to take revenge. He was allegedly harassed by fellow soldiers for being of Muslim descent, and had considered trying to leave the U.S. Army early but an attorney he retained said he could not. He may have also been “mortified” about having to be deployed to the Middle East after hearing horror stories.

Aside from the culture of honor as an issue in the shootings, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in gun control pro and con circles. One argument has been that more armed teachers, for example, will stop such shooters in schools. Now, I don’t know if the soldiers were armed in the area where the shooting occurred, but on the other hand it’s hard to imagine a place with more armed people than a military base. People taking up that line of debate will probably need more details.

Columbine and Jonesboro school shootings and Mike Huckabee

June 20, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I was in Jonesboro, Ark. for the book tour Friday night to discuss Columbine and, according to one story, I beat Mike Huckabee.

A photographer from the Jonesboro Sun said he once attended a three-hour booksigning by Mike Huckabee (I think it was some years ago) when Huckabee was Arkansas governor. Huckabee sold two books.

While I beat that record Friday I have little doubt Huckabee, the prominent conservative with his own talk show on Fox News, would today beat me (and his own record).

But more down to substance, I did not do an actual talk Friday but a sit-down, meet and greet (and hopefully sign) book appearance.

One woman told of how she had been a teacher before Columbine, and expressed concerns to the school about a student. Nothing happened, and the student later committed suicide. That would not happen today, I believe, because post-Columbine warning signs about problem students are taken much more seriously, whether the issue is suicide or homicide. (Although, notably, school shooters often express a desire to die in the course of the shootings. But that’s another story.)

One man did not believe gun control was the answer. While I could argue that the more barriers you put in front of someone to getting guns, the harder it is to get them, it is also likely that the Columbine killers would have gotten their guns no matter what. Three of the four were purchased, legally, at a gun show. The fourth was purchased casually through a friend of a friend type situation.

One woman who made a beeline to my table said she heard my book was the more accurate Columbine book, and scooped it up.

I ended my two-hour session sitting around with a bunch of local teenagers. They were smart, sassy, and bored. And I thank them for buying a book with graduation money.

Winnenden, Germany School Shooting: The Media

March 13, 2009 at 6:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As I was watching a BBC television story on the Winnenden, Germany school shooting Wednesday night, I was sickened not just by the content, but the media coverage.

The coverage itself was bothersome because there was no context – i.e. no explanation – added to the timeline of events, and it made me think that coverage of school shootings tends to follow a predictable sequence.

First, reporters try to establish a “tick tock” of events. This is of course crucial, and no easy task. It has taken years to unravel the details of the Columbine shootings – in part because the Jefferson County Sheriff withheld information – but consider the difficulty of nailing hundreds of details within the first hours.

Next are the interviews with people who knew – or think they knew – the shooter. “I just can’t figure out why he did it,” they say. There is a collective surrender, as if there is nothing that can be done. There is nothing to do but repeat the history of school shootings and indicate this is part of a puzzling trend. Until the next one occurs.

I did come across one article the day of the shootings that was discussing gun control. And that angle continues to be covered. The New York Times today seemed to push violent video games angle, but without a full exploration. The BBC mentioned depression in the shooter, but again failed to fully explore the issue.

I am not knocking daily journalism – you certainly can’t cover everything in a day. And the New York Times did post its excellent series on rampage killers the day of the shootings.

But I would argue the gun control and video games explanations are too simplistic. And there are experts out there – albeit a few – who have studied some of the common denominators among school shooters. (That’s the topic I wrote on the day of the shootings.) Expertise and context can connect the dots, rather than simply add to the gruesome timeline.

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