In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section School Shootings

  • Introduction
  • Investigative and Technical Reports
  • Edited Volumes
  • Special Issues of Journals
  • Risk and Threat Assessment
  • Policy Changes
  • Prevention Strategies
  • Public Reactions to School Shootings
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Comparative Approaches
  • International Perspectives

Childhood Studies School Shootings
Kyle Knapp, Jaclyn Schildkraut, Glenn W. Muschert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0151


School shootings have taken their place as a cultural phenomenon in the international community. Though one of the earliest recorded events took place in 1913 in Bremen, Germany, it was not until the late 1990s and early 2000s when these events became more “culturally mainstream.” This shift came in part to high profile cases in the United States, including shootings at Columbine High School (1999), Virginia Tech (2007), and more recently, Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012). Several high profile cases from other countries––such as the Dunblane, Scotland, shooting (1996), Erfurt, Germany, massacre (2002), and Jokela school shooting in Finland (2007)––also contribute to the heightened awareness of the phenomenon. The study of school shootings is a relatively new topic of interest, yet it invites research from a number of disciplines, including sociology, criminology and criminal justice, education, public health, communications, and psychology. The multidisciplinary body of research on school shootings takes a number of different approaches to analyzing this topic. A number of books have been written, including those which focus on specific events, such as Columbine and Sandy Hook. Technical reports have been offered, aimed at understanding these and other past events, while also providing threat assessment models and other useful information for practitioners, policymakers, and members of the education community. Articles about school shootings from a variety of perspectives have appeared in both edited volumes as well as special edition journal issues. In an effort to prevent the next episode, a number of researchers have examined both individual and societal-level factors that may assist in profiling school shooters. Similarly, examinations into risk and threat assessment, policy changes, and preventative strategies also are important areas of research when examining the aftermath and legacies of such events. These shootings have the ability to generate fear and concern among the general public, despite whether they are directly or indirectly aware of these events, and such reactions typically are perpetrated by the media. As such, one of the broadest areas of inquiry with regard to school shootings aims at understanding the media construction of both the shooters and the events themselves. In order to answer many of the difficult and often unanswered questions about these events, some researchers have turned to utilizing theory for potential explanations and understanding. Finally, as school shootings are not solely a problem for the United States, both comparative and international approaches have been used to understand this global problem. When taken individually, these works offer important insights into their relative perspectives; yet, when examined collectively, these works provide a robust and more complete understanding of the phenomenon of school shootings.


The following section includes books on single events as well as overall phenomenological examinations of school shootings and similar rampage events. Each of these works, while important to the overall study of school shootings, provides very different approaches to their explanation of the topic. Newman, et al. 2004 is one of the earliest and most cited works examining social explanations for school shootings. Others have instead chosen to focus on individual-level explanations. Langman 2009 examines psychological profiles of school shooters to identify potential causal factors, while Klein 2012 discusses the role of bullying in precipitating school shooting events. Different perspectives also have been used to situate the issue of school shootings in a larger narrative of violence. Kellner 2008, for example, situates his discussion on school shootings in the context of domestic terrorism. Ames 2005 frames these acts as a form of rage murder, whereas Fast 2009 identifies school shootings as acts of ceremonial violence. Fox and Burstein 2010 provides a broader discussion, situating school shootings in the overarching discourse of violence in schools, while Fein and Hickman 2003 delves deeper into the issue of school-based violence by examining the problem of school shootings from the perspective of school leaders. Fox, et al. 2012 takes an even broader approach, situating school shootings among other types of rare homicides.

  • Ames, Mark. Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull, 2005.

    NNNThis book provides a detailed examination of the evolution of rage murder, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. The author specifically examines how rage murders have evolved from the impact of Reaganomics to high schools and post offices in later years.

  • Fast, Jonathan. Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2009.

    NNNThis book provides a detailed analysis of the narrative of the Columbine shooting from the perspective of a number of social sciences, including psychology and sociology. Four other cases of rampage shooting also are examined to understand how people cope with these tragic events.

  • Fein, Albert, and Gill R. Hickman. There and Back Again: School Shootings as Experienced by School Leaders. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2003.

    NNNThe authors conducted one-on-one interviews with people in leadership capacities in four schools across the United States where school shootings took place. This book highlights a number of responses that are beneficial to creating multidisciplinary response plans and policies moving forward.

  • Fox, James Alan, and Harvey Burstein. Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool Through College. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010.

    NNNUsing an evidence-based approach, the authors examine patterns and trends of violence and crime in different levels of educational settings. They highlight important security issues and assess the effectiveness of proposed solutions and other policy responses.

  • Fox, James Alan, Jack A. Levin, and Kenna D. Quinet. The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2012.

    NNNIn this book, the authors situate school shootings alongside other types of homicide, including medical murder, cult killings, and serial homicide. The authors seamlessly blend sociological research with case studies to provide an in-depth examination of these rare phenomenon.

  • Kellner, Douglas. Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008.

    NNNThis book examines several violent, episodic crime events, such as the bombing in Oklahoma City and the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings. Framing these events as domestic terrorism, Kellner traces important commonalities between events and discusses the pervasive nature of the media in presenting these narratives to the public.

  • Klein, Jessie. The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in American Schools. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

    NNNIn this book, Klein argues that the increase of school shootings in the United States is a result of bullying, an act that is promoted by our culture of aggression and competition. Interviews show how bullying is used across genders to minimize other students’ role, and how this problem is perpetuated not only by students but also adults and even law enforcement. Klein argues that bullying leads to a number of other outcomes beyond school shootings, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and suicide.

  • Langman, Peter. Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters. New York: Palgrave, 2009.

    NNNIn this book, Langman provides an in-depth investigation into the psychological causes of school shootings in an effort to understand why these events occur. By identifying these warning signs, Langman is able to offer additional preventative measures that can be used both by the parents of potential offenders as well as educators and other members of the school and social communities.

  • Newman, Katherine S., Cybelle Fox, Wendy Roth, Jal Mehta, and David Harding. Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

    NNNThis important work in the area of school shootings contends that such events are not random or spontaneous acts of violence, but instead are the result of failures within the communities to identify warning signs that could be used to prevent these events. Incorporating case studies, this book shows where these important flags were missed and how changes can be made to prevent future shootings.

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