- Published: October 30, 2012
Recently in the Houston Chronicle I saw an article about a third grader that was injured at a shooting at her school. I was immediately drawn to this article because the key point of the headline mentioned that this was a school shooting, and that it took place at an elementary school, which I thought was of particular interest. I couldn’t find the actual article that I read in print describing the details of the shooting in the online version of the newspaper, but I did find another article in the Chronicle about the incident. Given that this incident took place at an elementary school, it seems less an act of carefully orchestrated violence and more of an accident. A third grader brought a handgun to school and another third grader was shot and injured when the gun misfired.
Although the kid that brought a gun to school did not actually fire the gun at anyone intentionally, I am curious as to what factors would have motivated an eight year old to bring a gun to school. I think that even children that young already understand social norms well enough to know that it is not okay to bring a gun to school. I wonder if this kind of behavior is evidence of some sort of psychological problem. Children are more often thought of as victims rather than as perpetrators of crimes, but when I started to think about this, it seemed odd to me that young kids don’t do things like this more often. Studies of psychopaths have shown that psychopathic individuals almost always show psychopathic tendencies very early on. In other words, this is an enduring characteristic, not something that is developed over time. Given that and the fact that children have not yet developed proper impulse control, it seems remarkable that incidents of violence perpetrated by children don’t happen more frequently.
The reason for this actually seems quite obvious—elementary school age children typically don’t have access to guns. This seems to be the distinction in why shootings are such a problem in high schools. In reading and researching about school shootings, this was the point that continually shocked me. Most of these kids had access to guns. They obtained guns legally or just brought guns from their home. People use school shootings as evidence against gun control laws with the argument that the reason people target schools is because guns aren’t allowed there. This may be true for incidents of random gunmen coming into schools, but these incidents are comparatively rare. Most school shootings are perpetrated by students who choose to shoot at schools because that is where they are. This is made possible by the fact that they have easy access to firearms.
Going back to the third grader that brought a gun to school, I think that this incident may not even be evidence of anything psychologically wrong at all. Certainly most school shooters have something psychologically wrong—psychopathy, psychosis, or clinical depression, but I think there are much bigger factors at play. The fact that so many school shootings have happened is evidence of more deep-rooted societal issues. The high level of violence that children are exposed to in our culture contributes to behaviors like this. Maybe the fact that this child brought a gun to a first grade class doesn’t mean that he’s a psychopath at all, but just thought that he thought that guns are cool because of violence in video games and the media.