Could it happen here? Moral panic, school shootings, and fear of crime among college students


Originating in the early 1970s, the concept of moral panic has been used to describe the public’s reaction to a real or perceived threat. Moral panic has been linked to well-known social problems, including muggings, drugs, juvenile ‘delinquency, gangs, and terrorism. More recently, researchers have examined school shootings in this context. Notably absent, however, is a quantitative application of Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s (1994a, 1994b) attributional model of moral panic. The present study examines the five key attributes of moral panic—concern, hostility, consensus, disproportionality, and volatility – as they relate to school shootings and fear of crime among college students. The results indicate that respondents’ fear of crime is the best predictor of students’ subscription to moral panic. Directions for future research, as well as limitations of the present study, also are discussed.

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    Due to IRB restrictions, the researchers were not allowed to ask respondents the numeric value of their age, but instead were required to ask respondents where they fell in the following age groups: 18-21 (255 total respondents), 22-25 (195 total respondents), 26-29 (7 total respondents), 30 and older (1 respondent). These were then collapsed into 21 and under and 22 and over categories.

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    LaGrange and Ferraro [44] included an eleventh item—rowdy youth. This was later omitted by Ferraro [70], the model which was used in the present study.


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The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this research. A previous version of this manuscript was presented at the 2013 annual meetings of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

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Correspondence to Jaclyn Schildkraut.

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Schildkraut, J., Elsass, H.J. & Stafford, M.C. Could it happen here? Moral panic, school shootings, and fear of crime among college students. Crime Law Soc Change 63, 91–110 (2015).

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