Back in My Day: Generational Beliefs About School Shootings

AuthorCheryl Lero Jonson,Amanda Graham,Heejin Lee
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Back in My Day: Generational
Beliefs About School Shootings
Amanda Graham
, Cheryl Lero Jonson
and Heejin Lee
Following a school shooting, the public and media search to understand what factors led to such
tragedy. Faced with grief, fear, and confusion, people often seek to make sense of traumatic events.
As such, this study uses a 2020 Amazon Mechanical Turk survey (N=739) to examine the impact of
generational cohort on the blameworthiness of various perceived causes of school shootings.
Findings support some generational differences. Baby Boomers were more likely to believe in soci-
etal-related causes of school shootings compared to Millennials and Generation Z. Conversely,
Millennials and Generation Z were more likely than Baby Boomers to attribute the cause of school
shootings to bullying, mental health, and school security. These ndings suggest that future school
shooting policies will seek to address bullying, mental health, and school security, while policies sur-
rounding societal factors may be phased out.
school shootings, generational cohort, school safety
Immediately after the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, which left 12 students and a
teacher dead, politicians and the public were quick to blame the two perpetratorsparents, violent
media, and bullying (Baldwin, 1999; Cullen, 2009, 2019a; Fox & DeLateur, 2014; Mears et al.,
2017). After 20 elementary school students and six adults were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook
Elementary School shooting, the public lasered in on the shooters mental health and relationship
with his mother (Long, 2012; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013; Shriver, 2012). Six years later, after
the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), where three staff/faculty
members and 14 students lost their lives, not only was there immense attention on gun control,
Georgia Southern University, United States
Xavier University, United States
Sam Houston State University, United States
Corresponding Author:
Amanda Graham, Georgia Southern University, School of Criminal Justice and Criminology, PO Box 8105, Statesboro,
GA 30460, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2022, Vol. 47(3) 369398
© 2022 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168221098367
but also questions were raised about the security of the school, particularly around armed security
(including teachers) and the inadequate responses of law enforcement (Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, 2019).
Underlying the need to blame something as the cause of these school shootings is the desire to
prevent this from occurring somewhere else (Jonson, 2017; Schildkraut & Hernandez, 2014).
And, this blame game not only exists in the towns and cities victimized by these tragedies but
also occurs across the country as the reverberations of these incidents extend well beyond the com-
munities in which they took place (Lowe & Galea, 2015; Peterson & Densley, 2020). Despite endur-
ing a raging coronavirus pandemic, massive social justice movements, nancial disruptions, and the
political turmoil of the election cycle, more than 6 in 10 American adults indicated mass shootings
were a signicant source of stress in 2020 (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020).
Importantly, stress about school shootings has not been limited solely to adults, with more than
half of Generation Z (Gen Z) indicating they are worried and stressed about a shooting occurring
in their own school (APA, 2018; Graf, 2018).
This ensuing stress and worry can be a driving factor to take action to prevent the next tragedy
(Burton et al., 2020; Jonson et al., 2021; Lee et al., 2020). As a result, what the public views as
the root causes of such incidents has the ability to shape gun and school policies across the nation
(see Jonson et al., 2021). Using a nationwide sample of 739 individuals, we examine ve categories
of school shooting causes: gun-related, security-related, societal-related, mental health-related, and
bullying. With younger generations living in an age of school shootings,their time within the
schoolhouse has been markedly different than their parentsand grandparents,with active
shooter and lockdown drills, metal detectors, access control measures, and armed security becoming
the norm (Interlandi, 2018; Jonson, 2017; Jonson et al., 2021). Thus, it is quite possible these differ-
ing educational experiences could inuence their beliefs about the causes of school shootings. As
younger generations become a larger voting bloc and more involved in legislative processes in the
near future, this generational analysis provides insight into future policy debates on how the
public will protect students and educators from school shootings (Fry, 2020; Lee, 2020; Rubin,
The Blame Game: The Publics Explanations of School Shootings
Inevitably after a school shooting occurs, one of the rst collective questions is Why?As indicated
above, answering this question becomes an urgent need for individuals to make sense of the unimag-
inable and to take action to prevent future tragedies from occurring. Below we briey review ve of
the most common factors the public holds culpable for enabling or encouraging a school shooting.
Gun-Related Causes
Within hours of the MSD shooting, the nations attention squarely focused on gun control. MSD
students and parents were confronting politicians to enact gun control legislation, a national
#NeverAgain movement was born, and public support for stricter laws on gun sales soared to a
25-year high (Blake, 2018; Haner et al., 2019; Jones, 2018). Just as in the aftermath of the
Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, a ood of legislative action commenced to control
access to rearms, ranging from requiring background checks to raising the minimum age for pur-
chase, limits on high-capacity magazines, and increasing waiting periods (Burton et al., 2020;
Schildkraut & Hernandez, 2014; Stockler, 2019).
Discussions about gun-related causes of school shootings are thrust into the national dialog for
three main reasons. First, as the name suggests, a school shootinginvolves the use of a rearm
370 Criminal Justice Review 47(3)

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