Columbine massacre

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The Columbine Massacre was a tragic school shooting on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, a suburb of Denver and Littleton. Two nihilistic teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used automatic weapons to kill 12 fellow students and a teacher, and wounding 24 others, before both committed suicide. It is considered to be the deadliest school shooting in the United States to date.

As with other school shootings observers of all ideological persuasions have chosen to condemn those aspects of American society they dislike and neglect the fact that violence is common to human males and especially human adolescent males in all societies. Many conservative American pundits refuse to recognize the role played by the ready availability of firearms in American society played in the tragedy. Their counterparts in Britain or Japan would be unable to commit comparable acts opf violence.

Common Questions

Among the questions commonly asked about the event are:

  • How could such a violent crime have been committed by two young people?
  • How could two students with no previously observed noted tendencies toward such extremes of retaliatory behavior?
  • Were there extenuating circumstances? (Were they the victims of social ostracism in a high school social environment that valued conformity and soulless materialism?)
  • Was there any external ideological imputus? (Were they brain-washed by Marilyn Manson lyrics?)
  • How could their fammilies have remained unaware of their extensive preparations and their apparent psychological distress? (Were they the family environments that valued conformity and soulless materialism?)
  • If the accounts of schoolyard bullying, defamation, etc., were accurate, what is the appropriate critique of their high school's response?
  • If the community was aware of a developing conflict situation, what critique would justly apply to the community's response?

Social Dynamics

In line with the observations presented in Geoffrey Canada's Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, it is worth looking at the social dynamics that are set up when children are thrown on their own resources to deal with bullying, gang violence, etc. From published accounts it appears that the two ruthless killers in this case were subjected to some degree of abuse from other students. They appear to have justified their preparations and their eventual actions to themselves as what they needed to do to right a wrong.

One form of reinforcement for, and perhaps the germ of, their violent vendetta seems to have been a on-line Nazism or soem comparable fascist ideology. They had a website that was quickly taken down from its original ISP (but may have been archived elsewhere) that gave some insights into the worldview that apparently guided their actions. Where they came upon these ideas is unclear, and no "evil guru" has emerged in the intervening year to indicate any personal and direct influence on them. They may well have found such ideas in various forms in the mass media and/or on websites.

There have been many policy recommendations made, and sociological questions raised, in considering how we might better avoid recurrences of conflicts of this kind:

  • Children should be disciplined severely so as to make them unwilling to challenge the society in this manner.
  • School authorities should have at hand sufficient means to control such abberant behavior whenever it does occur
  • Parents should be made legally culpable for the violent acts of their children.
  • The purpose of society is to control people, so such events as the Columbine Massacre indicate a breakdown in the authority of society, which should be restored.
  • The purpose of society is to facilitate the growth and harmonious interaction of its members, so resources need to be devoted to understanding the etiology of such events (both on the side of the shooters and on the side of the school community that they chose to attack) and to preventing as far as possible the conditions that led up to the event.
  • The police powers of the state as well as the more indirect powers of other institutions of the society should be used to protect all individuals against bullying, discrimination, etc., and the focused efforts of the community had best be used sooner in each child's development rather than later.


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