As a mother with a seriously ill child, who studies and teaches about violence, I hope you will permit me to write about Sandy Hook.
Sometimes we sociologists have useful insights. I hope you will indulge me by allowing me to share some of what we scholars know about rampage school shootings.
Many people have emailed me to ask about rampage shootings and how to speak to their children. First, I would assure older children who are worried that the man behind this incident was captured and that their teachers and parents do everything in their power to keep them safe. This sort of tragedy, while hor
rifying, is actually quite rare.
We have learned a great deal in the wake of Columbine, and every school I have worked with has drills with students instructing teachers to barricade themselves into classrooms and hide their children against the wall away from a gunman’s line of vision. We have such protocols and procedures here at Saint Joseph’s University and for years our own ERLDC led the way in getting training to first responders and schools.
Social media is also a powerful tool and teachers and staff will get emergency alerts when there are threats to students and the school. Also, elementary schools have cameras and security protocols. As the details emerge in this case, I suspect that the alleged shooter will have had access to information and ways to circumvent security because his mother was a teacher there.
I also suspect we will soon learn that some of the adults who died today sacrificed themselves to save their students.
I recommend folks check out Kathy Newman’s book Rampage for a very substantial academic analysis of these exceedingly rare occurences. Some of the highlights of Newman and her students’ findings are that the rampage shooters imagine that their acts of violence are magical solutions to their social conflicts. And that most of these shootings happen in semi-rural or rural areas because the schools themselves are the targets of the shooters’ rage. Indeed, the shooters seem to use the shootings as a hybrid suicide/theatrical assault on the people and the community they blame for their pain and isolation.
I am sure there will be a huge call for gun control, I am afraid to say it will not go anywhere, politicians are simply too fearful of the lobbyists and the influence they wield. Politicians have acknowledged this to me off the record on more than one occasion. But also, it doesn’t matter, since there are so many guns in the US it would take decades of interdiction to make a dent in the guns out there. But, while people will be haunted by the images of children holding hands walking out of Sandy Hook, I would like to remind folks that the far more frequent targets of gun violence are poor, black, males living in segregated cities, not affluent/rural suburbs.
Just this Monday, in my own beloved Philadelphia, a 4 year old was shot, while sitting in a car. His father was the target.
I will not make any further comment about the issues of race and poverty, but I would encourage people who are horrified at this violence to focus on the most frequent context for youth violence and force politicians and our society to deal with the social realities that have made Philadelphia and Camden some of the most deadly cities in the nation and the planet.
A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Jeremiah- Thanks to Father Chris for reminding of this beautiful passage that is just so appropriate