Why Do School Shooters Do It? A look at the numbers.

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Feb. 28 2012 12:40 PM

School Shootings By the Numbers

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Nate Mueller, a student from Chardon High School, shows where a bullet grazed his ear after a shooting in the cafeteria.

Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images

We don’t know yet why T.J. Lane, the 17-year-old accused school shooter in Chardon, Ohio, allegedly opened fire on his fellow students, killing one and leaving another brain dead, as of this morning, and three more seriously injured. We have a rambling Facebook rant from Lane that ends with “Die, all of you.” But if we’ve learned anything from the myth making that followed Columbine, as well as more recent oversimplified explanations for school tragedies like the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi, it’s that the initial rush to answer the natural question “Why?” often leads to wrong turns.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

In this initial moment of grasping, it’s worth checking out instead the data-crunching in The Bully Society, a new book by sociologist Jessie Klein. I was just on the Brian Lehrer show with Klein, and she mentioned a few of the interesting and surprising conclusions to which the numbers led her:

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  • School shootings are increasing in number, not falling, with 43 between 2009 and 2011 alone.
  • By Klein’s count, 50 percent of the shooters faced challenges to their masculinity. They picked up a gun to prove themselves, in her view.
  • Another 30 percent had difficulties in school, like behavioral problems and suspensions.
  • Another substantial fraction were boys involved in dating or other sexual violence against girls. (Since the 1970s, the vast majority of school shooters have been boys.)
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