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(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Oct. 9, 2006)

Media not to blame for school shootings

  By John Martin

First it was the shooting at Montrealís Dawson College.  Within a heartbeat, that was followed by a hostage-taking incident at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey Colorado where six young girls were sexually assaulted and one shot to death.

The carnage continued forty-eight hours later in rural Wisconsin where a principal was killed after giving fifteen-year old Eric Hainstock a disciplinary warning.

Three days after that, a lone gunman took a group of girls hostages in a one room Amish schoolhouse, killing five of them.

Among the tears, anger and confusion, considerable commentary and analysis have been quick to follow.  Of course the usual suspects, firearm ownership and a culture that trivializes and makes a game of mass murder through cinema and video games, have come under immense fire.

David Grossman, a retired military psychologist, maintains TV and video games condition children for killing, much as the military trains its recruits. 

But a more popular explanation appears to be the argument that the media incites and encourages copycat acts of violence by over reporting such stories.

Elizabeth Carll, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, Violence in Our Lives, points out that when school shootings occur, they ďtake up 50 percent of the news in a newspaper, it's hardly 50 percent of what's occurring in the world. Yet people, especially youngsters, tend to think of things they see in the media as common.Ē

 According to the narrative, excessive media coverage of tragic events encourages impressionable people to act in a similar manner.  This is certainly not the first time such a case has been made. 

A decade ago there were allegations that extensive media reports prompted a rash of copycat teen couple suicide pacts.  Using that reasoning, you could blame Shakespeare for writing Romeo and Juliet.

In times of turmoil, itís human nature to seek out a scapegoat.

Many are pointing fingers at the voluminous media coverage of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School for encouraging and motivating the recent shootings.  The problem is, schoolyard killings didnít start with Columbine.

A year prior to Eric Harris and Dylan Kleboldís rampage, fifteen-year old Kip Kinkle brought two guns to school in Oregon, killing two students and injuring twenty-five others.  This was after he had shot his parents to death the day before.

A couple months earlier, two teens, aged eleven and thirteen, killed four students, one teacher and wounded ten others at an Arkansas school in what now has become known as the Jonesboro Massacre.

In fact, these types of incidents have been a growing phenomenon for over a decade. 

Rather than blame media for the latest rash of school shootings, thereís a much more straightforward, albeit frightening, explanation for the sudden surge.

Classes just started up again.

 

 

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at John.Martin@ucfv.ca

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