Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 419–438 | Cite as

Understanding Mass School Shootings: Links between Personhood and Power in the Competitive School Environment

  • Stephen ThompsonEmail author
  • Ken KyleEmail author

This paper explores perspectives about certain individual and social characteristics that may contribute to school shootings by students. It begins with perspectives on individual/environment fit, arguing first that persons marginalized by their caregivers during their upbringing, and by their peers, are lacking in the social interactions that help develop ethical behavior. Our argument contends that lacking such interactions may result in the failure to develop a sound moral philosophy. Further, we argue that when such persons enter the highly competitive environment found in some suburban and rural schools, some will be continually and consistently marginalized, finding their means of self-expression and sense of significance subdued. Their need for self-expression and a sense of significance as persons will surface, but without the benefit of a moral philosophy to guide that expression, this may result in deviant means of expression, such as violence— even extraordinary violence. We do not attempt to identify a list of specific traits of school shooters, which might lead to the development of a profile of school shooters. Rather, we are concerned with the characteristics of the environment in which shootings might occur, and how students not fully prepared for that environment might react. Thus, this paper is an overview of how seeds of the neglect of the basic needs of personhood, when sown early in life, and nurtured by peers, might come to fruition in the fertile field of the competitive school environment.


moral philosophy ethics school shootings prevention adolescent murder 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Sciences and Community Psychology & Social Change ProgramsPennsylvania State UniversityMiddletownUSA
  2. 2.Social Sciences and Community Psychology & Social Change ProgramsPennsylvania State UniversityMiddletownPA

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