Explanation of Shooting of Columbine in a Rage


Random shootings in public places, especially in schools, have been on the rise in the U.S. Reports indicate the since the year 1982, the U.S. has witnessed 28 random shootings in high schools as well as middle schools (Kimmel & Mahler 1439). Given that this vice is being perpetrated by very young people, there is need to establish the exact causes and the factors that are motivating young people to engage in rampage shooting. This paper approaches the issue of rampage shooting from a sociological point of view.

The paper acknowledges the strong connection between violence and social institutions, and that violence is a contextual concept whose interpretation is influenced by sociological factors such as the people involved and the reactions to it (Kaufman). In light of these truths, the paper explores the sociological factors explaining why alienated youth execute rampage shooting. Key factors addressed in the paper are media influence, politics and ideology, social hierarchies, gender socialization, and alienation.


There are many sociological factors that cause young people to engage in rampage shootings.

One such factor entails the social hierarchies prevailing in schools and other public places. Referring to the Columbine shootings of April 1999, Larkin (1319) terms rampage shootings as “an overtly political act in the name of oppressed students victimized by their peers”. This remark insinuates that many young people who perpetrate reckless, baseless killings in public spaces do so as a way of venting the anger and frustration that builds within them due to prolonged exposure to bullying.

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More specifically, most incidents of rampage shootings have been established to be some form of revenge for past wrongs, whether real or perceived (Larkin 1320).

This view is supported by the finding that school shootings are caused, in part, by bullying. It is logical to reason that a young person who is regularly attacked and bullied by his/her peers will experience intense frustration that may eventually lead him/her to attack others (Rocque 308). School shooters share a number of traits; for example, they typically have a history of having suffered victimization from their peers at some point (Wike & Fraser 165). Consequently, such people will grow up harboring some feeling of rejection; there is a likelihood of them getting violent on others in retaliation or just to release the frustration.

Another major cause of violent behavior among youth, and which explains the phenomenon of rampage shooting, is media influence. In an article titled ‘Understanding Causality in the Effects of Media Violence’, Bushman and Anderson (3) describe “exposure to violent media…as an important causal risk factor [of violent behavior]”. This argument is backed by evidence showing that in most cases, people who are involved in rampage shootings tend to be ardent fans of violent video games. This motivates such people to try out the things they see in the media on other people. More precisely, content and availability of violent media has contributed greatly towards increased cases of rampage shootings in that it stimulates violent fantasies in young people; it also increases aggression (Rocque 308).

A third factor that motivates or causes young people to engage in rampage shootings is alienation. This fact was established following the April 1999 shootings in Columbine High School, in which 15 students were killed and 23 others wounded. In an attempt to understand the motivations behind the killings, Ralph W. Larkin explored the influence that the shootings had on subsequent shootings. An important finding made by the author is that the perpetrators of the Columbine shootings were driven by issues such as perceived rejection by friends and the community (Larkin 1313). One of the perpetrators of the killings is quoted saying that he felt alienated, persecuted and isolated. The perpetrator stated that people liked mistreating him every day, thus pushing him to retaliate. The thesis that alienation is a major cause of rampage shootings among youth people is widely supported.

According to Mike and Fraser (165), “rejection [and alienation] is a developmental correlate of anxiety, depression, aggression, antisocial behavior, and other poor adolescent outcomes”. This is to say that people who are rejected by their families and the communities in which they live will most likely develop aggressive and antisocial behaviors. Gradually, such people will engage in violent activities, the rationale being that “experiencing acute rejection may exacerbate an existing problem or contribute to a threshold effect after which normative functioning is compromised” (Mike & Fraser 165). In other words, individuals who are subjected to profound rejection tend to develop behavioral problems that make them hostile towards other people. Consequently, involvement in rampage shootings is a likely outcome.

There is also the issue of politics and ideology. Much as most rampage shooters tend to be persons struggling with depression and rejection, and apart from the huge influence that the media has, it has been found that some people will engage in such acts due to political motives. More specifically, some of the people who are involved in rampage shootings do so out of the motivation to start some form of revolution that is aimed at championing for the rights and concerns of the despised and dispossessed members of the society. The perception and belief is that there are many people in the society that are humiliated and hurt by the manner in which the administration performs its work (Larkin 1320). As a way of expressing their grievances and disappointments about this, such people will launch mass assaults on the pretext that they are fighting for the good of the majority.

Gender socialization is another sociological explanation for young people’s involvement in rampage shootings. Michael Kimmel, a renowned sociologist, states that violence, as exemplified through school shootings, is one way through which young people demonstrate their masculinity. The sociologist further states that in most cases, rampage shooters are people who have not been given the opportunity to explore or utilize their male status. This tends to be a big issue especially in patriarchal societies where a man is regarded as a symbol of authority (Rocque 309). As a way of proving their masculinity, young men in such settings may resort to rampage shootings. Closely related to the aspect of masculinity is the notion of homophobia, which has been defined by Rocque (309) as the “desire to make sure that others know that you are a ‘real man’”.

An important theme emerging from the above analysis is that there is some kind of correlation between the various sociological explanations as to why alienated youth execute rampage shootings. For example, there is a very thin line between social hierarchies, alienation, and politics; the three are interconnected. In this light, it is correct to say that all the factors outlined above play an equally important role in explaining rampage shootings.

Theoretical Framework

Having established and concluded that all the sociological factors discussed in the foregoing section are equally important in explaining the phenomenon of rampage shootings, it follows that the conflict theory offers the most befitting theoretical framework to the topic being studied. The theory essentially postulates that the society is an unstable entity that is characterized by divisions together with inequalities. Precisely, the theory holds that the society is “a source of inequality, which benefits some groups at the expense of other groups” (Newman 45). In simple terms, the conflict theory states that owing to control of resources by a few people in the society, there exists inevitable conflict among members of the society. The theory offers a credible explanation of why rampage shootings occur, firstly because it depicts the society not as a stable entity but as one that is characterized by struggle and conflict. Secondly, the theory focuses on the issue of inequalities, which have been identified as a major motivating factor behind rampage shootings.

Applying the conflict theory in understanding the causes of rampage shootings, it follows that inequalities rising from social hierarchies, the inequalities caused by alienation, and the perceived inequalities informed by one’s ideologies or political affiliations all illustrate the relevance of the conflict theory in explaining rampage shootings.

Directions for Future Research

While it is known that young people engage in rampage shootings for a variety of reasons, one still wonders why a person would be so heartless as to mete brutal killings on school children. Stated otherwise, it seems that there is some sort of deprivation or lack of support that young rampage shooters have, which drives them to kill their colleagues for no apparent reason. It would, therefore, be necessary to conduct further research seeking to answer the following question: what does the at-risk young population consider to be the best remedy to the rampage shootings menace? The answer to this question would help to identify the most significant influencers of rampage shootings. This research would best be conducted using a qualitative approach, which would help to obtain in-depth, rich insights about the problem.

Works Cited

  1. Bushman, Brad and Craig, A. Anderson. Understanding causality in the effects of media violence. 2014. Web.
  2. Kaufman, Peter. “Understanding violence sociologically”, W.W. Norton, Everyday SociologyBlog, October 14, 2014, http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2014/10/understanding-violence-sociologically.html
  3. Kimmel, Michael S. and Matthew Mahler, “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence: Random School Shootings, 1982-2001.” American Behavioral Scientist 46:10 (2003): 1439-1458.
  4. Larkin, Ralph W. ‘The Columbine legacy: Rampage shootings as political acts.’ American Behavioral Scientist 52.9 (2009): 1309-1326.

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  1. Newman, David M. Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life. Los Angeles, Calif. [u.a.: Pine Forge, 2008. Print.

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  1. Rocque, Michael. ‘Exploring school rampage shootings: Research, theory, and policy.’ The Social Science Journal49.3 (2012): 304-313.
  2. Wike, Traci L., and Mark W. Fraser. ‘School shootings: Making sense of the senseless.’ Aggression and Violent Behavior14.3 (2009): 162-169.

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Explanation of Shooting of Columbine in a Rage. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/explanation-of-shooting-of-columbine-in-a-rage/

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