A yet another tragedy related to teenage aggression, when a 19-year-old college student shot his classmates and then himself, has sunk into media oblivion ... until the next case in the same line. We recall similar incidents analyzing if there is any connection between them.
What is Columbine? Let’s start with the episode that unleashed the chain of such events. In 1999, two students committed a massacre at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, United States. They brought explosive devices and weapons to the school and did away with the teachers and students they met with particular ferocity. As a result of their actions, thirteen people were fatally injured. Twenty-three victims were injured but survived. The shooters themselves committed suicide. The homemade bombs that young men had planted in the school canteen failed to go off. Otherwise, there would have been significantly more casualties. Tragedies of that kind had happened before. But it was this incident that triggered off a new cult. Maybe because it had coincided with the massive proliferation of the Internet. Numerous communities dedicated to the Columbine massacre started to appear. The perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold became heroes for many teenagers. Of course, not all young people who were interested in this issue started shooting their classmates. Many of them were just virtually involved. But it is undeniable that a number of similar cases had a clear reference to the Columbine massacre. Eight to seventeen school shootings (according to various estimates) were inspired by this scenario. And several dozen more have been prevented. Similar Сases in Russia Columbine subculture has become popular in our country, too. Whether the killer from Blagoveshchensk had been interested in it or not is still unknown. However, recent history abounds in examples, where students inspired by the American case, ended up organizing massacres. The most lurid one became the Kerch Polytechnic College massacre that happened in October 2018. A student of the college came there with a pump gun and started shooting at everyone on his way. Twenty people died, and 67 others were injured. He also planted an explosive device stuffed with bolts and nuts in the cafeteria. Unlike in American story, it had detonated. Another incident had taken place in Ivanteevka in the Moscow region, where a ninth-grade student first threw smoke pellets in the school hall, then ran into computer class and began threatening those present there with a pneumatic gun. He hit the teacher on her head with an axe. Several other schoolchildren were injured jumping out of the windows. The young man did not have time to kill himself, as the police detained him. The investigation revealed that he had also been a fan of Harris and Clibold. One more incident that can be mentioned here took place in Perm. Its result, however, was knife wounds, not gunshot wounds. Apparently, the teenagers could not get weapons. However, with the help of the knives, they managed to injure fifteen people. The explanation is simple: their victims were not the same age. The criminals assaulted fourth-graders and their teacher who became their main target. As it turned out, they also repeatedly posted information dedicated to Columbine on their social network pages. Why Is This Happening? We asked psychologists to comment on what makes young people commit such crimes. Ilya Markin, Candidate of Sociological Sciences, associate professor of marketing: “In my opinion, this is ingrained in the psyche of a person who is very aggressive but is not able to easily inflict any significant damage on his rival. Therefore, a person has invented all sorts of possibilities for himself, such as weapons. It has helped him in killing his own kind more efficiently. As a result, a fatal casualty has become very common.” Alyona Avgust, communications expert and psychologist: “At least, several conditions should coincide. As a rule, there is some negative background around the story, in which a teenager or an adult lives. The extreme degree of tension, the dominance of negative news, and the lack of any supportive relationships.” How Does Easy Access to Weapons Influence This? It is well known that the U.S. has quite liberal laws concerning the possession of weapons. Every time that a new school shooting happens, there is a debate in society on whether it is worth restricting the sale of cold-arms or, on the contrary, increasing their number by providing teachers with them and instructing them on how to meet attacks. However, possession of a weapon is not widespread in Russia. But such cases still happen. In two out of four cases (Blagoveshchensk and Kerch) guns were legally obtained by young people with all necessary documents. That is, those who need a weapon will find a way to get it. At the same time, we have hardly heard about such cases in Europe, although the legislation on weapons in a number of the EU countries is more liberal than in Russia. So, is it worth raising the age limit and examining the applicants even more strictly? Or is that not the point? Ilya Markin: “The European Union and the U.S. are based on completely different principles. To put it more bluntly, the USA is founded on the principles of individualism and achieving the results by all means. European society was historically stratified: freedom was always very limited there, and humanism, on the contrary, was valued highly. The availability of weapons should also be taken into account. In the USA, firearms possession has got cultish. Many people have a gun at home and have been taught how to shoot since the childhood. European laws are stricter. There are significantly fewer weapons in the EU, and people’s attitude to them is more cautious. As a result, there are two completely different approaches of social existence. Therefore, statistics of shooting at public places vary, too. Alyona Avgust: “If we compare Europe and America, we will notice that American laws are more liberal in terms of arms. Almost every American can have a gun at home. The attitude in society presumes that a child can handle it from an early age. As we can see, the rigid boundaries set by Russian legislation are not working here. Either our national slovenliness or the human factor makes the whole system of weapon issuing and handling inefficient. Anyway, mentally unstable teenagers have access to it – either it has been stored at home openly, or they have already got old enough to buy it. But reaching a certain age hasn’t made them psychologically mature to control themselves. Is The School Security To Be Strengthened? In all the above-mentioned cases the criminals had no problems bringing weapons with them in schools and colleges even with the video surveillance cameras and pass systems. We asked our experts whether such security is necessary if it can’t stop anybody. They agreed that security is necessary but more attention needs to be paid to the root causes of such incidents than to the consequences. Ilya Markin: “School security is there just for appearances. Security guards don’t have any rights and can stop a motivated murderer only at the expense of their own lives. Preparing for the past wars is a favorite occupation of our top army brass. Although the real reason might be something totally different. And the one and only thing to help here is the preventive actions. For example, finding out about difficult life situations of students such as bullying and ensuring against it. Alyona Avgust: “Of course, we have to think through such situations. School security guards should not be just at their workplaces formally but really do their job. The control over digital systems, frame metal detectors, guarding points and the ability to check everything brought into schools with special equipment are needed. But that's not all that matters. This is just the organizational issue. The similar incidents might happen again if children who do not manage their own behavior come to school. If bullying situations are not controlled by teachers and not treated properly by psychologists. If families do not know how to talk to the children in a critical situation. Then, no matter how wonderful the security system is, such incidents will happen again, sooner or later. Unfortunately, our country tends to fight against all undesirable occurrences with the help of prohibitions. In particular, in December 2018, a law was adopted to ban “columbine communities” and other resources promoting violence and suicide among adolescents. This is certainly an important and necessary measure. However, the State Duma and relevant ministries should pay equal attention for creating a favorable psychological environment and moral health of the society.