Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why So Many School Shootings In U.S?

ATLANTA, Georgia (Reuters) -- A rash of deadly shootings at U.S. schools has raised fresh questions about the causes of classroom rampages.

On Monday a gunman attacked a one-room Amish school in rural Pennsylvania, shooting dead three girls before killing himself, police said.

Last week an armed 15-year-old at a Wisconsin school killed the school's principal and in Colorado a drifter took six female high school students hostage, molested them, fatally shot one and killed himself.

School shootings have prompted changes to school safety rules, sparked debate over the availability of guns and prompted a string of academic studies on the causes of stress, depression and violence in young people.

"You need to examine in detail what's going on. Quite apart from the children who are exposed to school violence, the teachers and families are really traumatized and they need a lot of help," said Nadine Kaslow, professor and chief psychologist at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Advocates of wider gun controls argue that the availability of guns has made it easier for people to commit murder in schools.

"It is extremely easy whether you are a juvenile or a convicted felon or a domestic abuser to purchase a firearm legally or illegally," Peter Hamm of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence told Reuters.

"We believe that there should be criminal background checks on every gun purchase in America bar none and limits on the number of firearms an individual can purchase at one time," he said.

The right of an individual to carry a firearm is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and efforts to link the incidence of gun crime with access to guns are widely disputed.

While two of the recent shootings involved outsiders coming into schools, recent studies focused on student-on-student violence after two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999.

In the Columbine incident, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold armed themselves with assault rifles, handguns and home-made bombs and walked through their high school firing on anybody they met in what appeared to be a long-planned spree.

Afterward intense scrutiny of the lives and backgrounds of the pair, who committed suicide, focused attention on school bullying, social cliques as well as the potential effects of the music they listened to and the video games they played. Experts also looked for ways to spot warning signs of violence.

Kaslow said that violence in U.S. schools was a bigger problem than was reported because of the high incidence of bullying, hitting and sexual offenses. Shootings were just an extreme form of that violence.

"We get the message that the way to communicate is through violence and that somehow violence is acceptable," she said, as one explanation for the social factors behind school violence.

Despite the violence, Kaslow said it was important to keep school shootings in perspective.

Only 1 percent of homicides of school-age children occurred in or around school grounds, she said, adding that shootings at suburban or upper-middle-class schools attracted more attention than violence in city schools.

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