Why did the Columbine shooting happen?
Beliefs by commentators,
politicians, secularists, etc.
As described in another essay in this section, two
senior students at the Columbine High School in Littleton, CO murdered 14
students and one teacher; they also injured 20 students. The perpetrators were
Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17. After the killing rampage, on
1999-APR-20, both committed
Responses from secular sources to the Columbine tragedy:
Many media reporters, politicians, and assorted experts tried to determine
what motivated two members of the Columbine Trench Coat Mafia to
engage in a mass murder - suicide pact. This response followed earlier shootings
as well. Following the Jonesboro AK tragedy, "Larry Sabato, professor of political science at the
University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the author of 'Feeding Frenzy,'...[said
that] 'We've got so many 24-hour cable news operations and Internet services that the
pressure is there to constantly develop new angles, leads and sources.' " 1 One result was a sacrifice of accuracy in favor of reporting
This lack of accuracy is common. In the 1997-DEC school shooting in Paducha KY, for example, the alleged
perpetrator was described as "a self-professed atheist and an occasional
heckler" of a school prayer group. Later, it was found that he came
from a religious home and was apparently motivated by mental and emotional
Some commentators of the Jonesboro and Littleton tragedies proposed a single a
"magic bullet" - a sole cause of the disaster:
||Non traditional religions: Some media quoted
various authorities who blamed the violence on one of three faith
There was, of course, no evidence that the two gunmen were involved with
any of these religions. In attributing the mass murder to a minority faith
group, reporters were probably basing their belief on the "Satanic
Panic" of the 1980's and early 1990's. Rumors of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) as a widespread social evil started in 1980. They alleged sexual,
physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, perpetrated by underground,
inter-generational, internationally-coordinated Satanic cults. Various groups,
largely feminist and conservative Christian, raised public concern over SRA.
They later widened their accusations to accuse Witches (a.k.a.
Wiccans), Neopagans, Druids,
and dozens of other minority groups -- from the Orthodox
Christian churches to New Age spirituality. Like
most psychological fads, belief in SRA had its decade of
glory. It largely burned out by the late 1990's due to the complete lack of
any hard evidence that Satanic Ritual Abuse had actually existed at any
detectable level in North America.
||Liberal Elitism: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich
"I want to say to the elite of this country - the elite news media,
the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite: I accuse you in
Littleton, and I accuse you in Kosovo of being afraid to talk about the mess
you have made, and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have
done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because
you don't have the courage to look at the world you have created."
||Prohibition of prayer in schools: Dan Quayle, (R) a candidate
for President of the U.S. linked the Columbine shootings to the "legal
aristocracy" that turned schools into "value-free"
areas. 2He said that students require "a moral education, but the
legal aristocracy has obstructed their ability to receive it. It started
nearly four decades ago with the outlawing of school
prayer." Pat Buchanan (R), another candidate for the
Presidency, commented on CNN that "God and the Ten
Commandments and all moral instruction have been removed" from
the schools. "If those kids had walked into schools with Bibles
headed for a class, they would have been called to the principal's office.
But you come in talking about Adolph Hitler and they're having his
birthday...and that's acceptable." Marilyn Saltzman, a spokesperson
for the school district that includes Columbine High School said
honor the separation of church and state. But we
do not believe that any mention of religion is prohibited. According to our
policies, it is the advancement or inhibition of religion that is
prohibited...Students are certainly allowed to read the Bible and have a
Bible in his or her possession...Basically, we don't teach religion, we
teach about religion...We take the 1st Amendment seriously."
As in every public school in the U.S., the Constitution guarantees
students free religious speech: they are allowed to pray before an
exam, to say grace before a meal, meet at the flagpole for prayer,
write an essay about God or Jesus, etc. If the school allows
special interest clubs, then students have the right -- guaranteed by the federal Equal Access law -- to
form a Bible study group.
However, school districts may not introduce organized prayer into the
classroom. David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform
Judaism, said that blaming the shootings on a lack of organized school
prayer is nonsense. He said that such remarks are "flagrant efforts
to fan the flames of divisiveness in America...It is offensive to religion
and to the people of Littleton to say that a one-minute, watered-down
organized prayer is going to create some kind of religious transformation."
||Prohibition of the Ten Commandments: Representative
Bob Barr voted for a bill in Congress that would permit states to
mandate the posting of the Ten Commandments in offices and public schools. He suggested that the Columbine tragedy
might not have happened if the commandments had been displayed. Some
have argued that the posting of the Ten Commandments might increase
tensions at schools, and thus make mass murder more likely. They
reason that the first four or five commandments are purely theological
in nature and command people to worship Jehovah. Posting them
could alienate and marginalize non-Judeo-Christian students. This
would result in a new criteria for division within the student body:
||Dungeons and Dragons ® or other role-playing
games (RPG): These were viewed as a cause of the
murder/suicides by at least one reporter. Dave Thomas, the district
attorney in Littleton CO gave an emotional speech on 1999-APR-23. The
Associated Press review of his speech stated: "He said
America isn't taking care of its children. He wondered aloud about video games, movies,
role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and how
they influenced young people." However, there is no evidence that
either of the perpetrators played a RPG. Besides, studies have shown
that gamers commit fewer criminal acts, compared to non-gamers of
||Neo-Nazism: There is some evidence to support this
theory: the Columbine disaster was scheduled on Adolf Hitler's
birthday; the perpetrators had enjoyed re-enacting World War II
battles, and they sometimes wore Nazi crosses. But many people believe
that this was just part of the image that the Mafia had
created to differentiate themselves from the rest of the student body.
||The Goths: Goths are a
peaceful sub-culture whose members are heavily involved in unusual
clothing and makeup, a unique style of music, and philosophical
discussions. The Trenchcoat Mafia did have a unique style of clothing that was vaguely Goth-like. They
wore "long, black dusters like
the villains of the Old West." But there is no evidence that they
||Insufficient level of family violence: Senator
Frank Shurden of Henryetta, OK proposed a bill in the Oklahoma state
legislature during 1999-MAY that would remind Oklahoma parents that
they had the right to use "ordinary force"
including spanking, paddling or whipping,
to discipline their children. The bill was passed by the Senate (36-9)
and by the house (96-4). Shurden had decided to initiate the bill
after learning of the Columbine tragedy. He said: "I
feel like the lack of discipline has led to what we are into now, total chaos and
disrespect. Back when I grew up, we got our tails whipped at school, then got it again
when we got home. We didn't have shootings." The small minority of
legislators who voted against the bill expressed concern that it would
encourage child abuse.
||Insufficient level of violence by teachers: Gary Bauer, a
candidate for President in the 2000 elections commented on the lack of
reaction by adults at Columbine to Harris and Klebold's Nazi salutes
before the tragedy. He said on 1999-JUL-28 "Why did adults in that school feel that they
couldn't grab Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold] and say 'You know, if I see
you give the Nazi salute again, if I don't break your arm you're going to be
out of this school for the rest of this year.' "
||Video games, action movies and some popular songs were
blamed by President Clinton and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
After the Jonesboro school killing, people flooded the Internet with their
personal thoughts on the shooting. Prof. Sabato commented: "Everyone wants their 10
minutes of fame, and it gives them a chance to vent their spleen."
Some reasons for the killings that were published online: 1
||Misogyny: Two feminist groups in Little Rock, AR, The Women's
Project and Advocates for Battered Women, suggested that the
11 and 13 year old perpetrators of a mass shooting in that city were simply being misogynists. Noting
that 5 females and no males were killed at Jonesboro, they suggest
that the murders were: "not an aberration but
part of a larger pattern of common violence against women." Others
disagreed. They observed that the 4 girl victims just happened
to be the first students to exit the school during what they thought
was a fire-drill. They were part of an all-girl's music class. Since
the perpetrators attacked a middle school, one would expect that many
of the teachers were female as well.
||Use of prescription drugs: Author and physican Dr. Julian Whitaker
commented: "When I first heard about the Columbine High
School massacre, my initial thought was, 'Lord help us, were
they taking Prozac?' Nine days later, it was reported that Eric
Harris, one of the shooters, was taking Luvox, which, like Prozac,
Zoloft and Paxil, belongs to the class of drugs known as selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In one out of every 25
children taking it, Luvox causes mania, 'a psychosis
characterized by exalted feelings, delusions of grandeur and
overproduction of ideas.' " 3
||Access to guns: Sarah Brady, Chairperson of Handgun Control, Inc.
in Washington DC, and Bobby McDaniel, an attorney in Jonesboro, blamed
the shooting on the easy access that children have to guns. Others
observed that guns were only the method used to kill students. That tells us nothing about why the students decided to murder others.
||No father in the home: Dr. Ned Holstein,
President of Fathers and
Families in Boston commented: "The strongest predictor of youth violence is
not poverty, not race, not inadequate gun laws, not the presence of gangs, not the wearing
of camouflage clothing, not portrayals of violence in the media and not lack of midnight
basketball. It is the lack of a father in the home." Others noted
that the two killers in Littleton were from intact, two parent
||Capitalism: David Walsh of the World Socialist web
site stated: "Defenders
of capitalism...long for a society where profit and loss are the only means of determining
the value of any activity or human being...What would such a society, guided only by
selfishness and violence, look like? The events in Jonesboro give some indication."
"Those who died and those who did the shooting are victims alike of the market
Other online speculation about the causes of the Columbine disaster were:
||Homosexuality: A rumor spread that Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold were both gay. This prompted about 75 fearful gay teenagers to
meet a week after the shooting in nearby Denver. "They talked
about many of the same concerns and fears that Columbine students were
expressing in press interviews...They talked about how sorry they felt
for the surviving families and friends of the shooting victims."
But the teens were also terrified that rumors of the perpetrator's
sexual orientation "would trigger a backlash against area
students who were known to be gay and those perceived to be gay."
The rumor appears to have since died out. There is considerable
evidence that Harris and Klebold were not gay:
||Many of their friends insisted that they were heterosexual.
||They both took female dates to the school prom just before the
||A girl friend of one of the perpetrators helped them acquire
The only evidence that they may have been gay was flimsy, at best:
||School "jocks" repeatedly harassed Harris and
Klebold, calling them "faggots." However, in high
school culture, the term "faggot" does not necessarily
mean that the victim is perceived as gay; it is a generic term of
hatred and derision.
||The perpetrators had often worn Goth style of clothing, and had painted their fingernails black. But
male and female, heterosexual and homosexual Goths all do this. 4
||Littleton community culture: Pundit Pap for 1999-APR-25
reviewed a Fox News Sunday program. They discussed statements by Joe
Clark, a former principal of Columbine High School. They commented:
"Clark criticized the school's atmosphere of hate and violence.
Bravo, Joe Clark -- but you should have gone further, mentioning the
repressive, hard-right culture within the town of Littleton, which itself
contributed to the marginalization of kids who were a little 'different' and
didn't fit in!" 5
||Southern Culture: The American Journal of Sociology Online
reviewed the book "Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South." 6 The book's authors state that the higher
rate for homicides among whites in the small towns throughout the
southern U.S is due to "the
traditional 'culture of honor' -- in which a man's reputation is seen as central to his
economic survival." This leads to a hypersensitivity to insults
that can quickly escalate to murder.
||Lack of training of school administrators: One
observer felt that the perpetrators at Jonesboro "fit the psychological model of sociopaths. Sociopathic
children exhibit clear verbal and nonverbal signs. If the staff had been properly trained
to identify these signs, intervention could have happened."
||Unknown cause: The chairperson of the Republican National Committee Jim Nicholson, commented "Doubtless, there will be those who will try to
politicize these tragic events, who will exploit our emotions in furtherance of simplistic
political solutions." [America was not yet able] "to formulate the questions
about yesterday's tragedy, much less learn the answers." 7
||A letter to the editor: Paul Harvey read a letter
to the editor over his news cast. The original author and date are
unknown. He ridiculed that thought that guns must be the problem, and
suggested a number of other contributing factors: broken homes, lack
of parent-child interaction, day care, sex and violence on TV, small
family size, spoiled children, abortion, low prison sentences to teens
who murder their newborn, evolution, situational ethics. They do not
mention what many consider to be the root causes of the disaster:
years of ridicule, marginalization, and intolerance by popular
students, of fellow students who are different, plus the easy access
- Linda Caillouet, "Shootings discussed on Internet,"
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, at: http://www.ardemgaz.com/\
- Anon, "Littleton school official says district accommodates
religion," Report from the Capital, Baptist Joint Committee, Vol.
54, #11, 1999-JUN-1
- Dr. Julian Whitaker, Article, "Health & Healing," 1999-SEP.
See: http://www.drwhitaker.com/ This website discusses health supplements and wellness medicine.
- Lou Chibbaro, Jr., "Young gays traumatized by shooting,"
Washington Blade, 1999-MAY-7, at: http://www.youth.org/\
- "Carnage at Columbine High: Is Ken Starr the Reason? Did his
hate-filled campaign kill the kids at Columbine High?" Pundit Pap,
1999-APR-25. See: http://www.american-politics.com/\
- R.E. Nisbett & Dov Cohen, "Culture of Honor: The Psychology of
Violence in the South," Westview Press, (1996) You can read a
review or order this book safely from Amazon.com
- Justin Torres, "Leaders call for prayer for Littleton,"
Conservative News Service (CNS) at: http://www.conservativenews.net/\
Copyright © 1999 to 2011, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JUN
Latest update: 2011-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson