Opinion: Stop blaming school shootings on bullying

In light of the tragic school shooting in Michigan, it is important to reject attempts to link bullying to mass murder.

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Manasa Gudavalli

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, a school shooter shot 11 people at Oxford High School in Michigan. In light of this, it is important to reject attempts to blame bullying for mass murders. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

Srishti Bungle, Deputy Opinion Editor

A 15-year-old sophomore school shooter committed a senseless act of violence at Oxford High School on Tuesday, Nov. 30. Eleven people were shot, three students died from their injuries and the rest were critically injured. A fourth student died the next day. The shooting at Oxford was the 27th mass murder of 2021 in the United States. 

In the past, mass shootings in schools inspired debates about what potentially motivated attackers to open fire on classmates and teachers. Bullying seemed like the clear and easy answer. In 2004, the United States government released its Safe School Initiative report, claiming that 71% of attackers were motivated by social distress — the report’s seventh key finding read, “Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.” 

For years, the narrative that shooters were victims of bullying has persisted. Now, with the findings of the Oxford case, we need to stop excusing the actions undertaken by school shooters.

It was the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that stirred the first contemporary conversations about school shooters and their motives. It was speculated that the school shooters committed the attacks because of bullying. More recently, the brother of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooter attributed his sibling’s violence to being bullied and isolated at school. Though bullying was not confirmed as the primary motive for either case, bullying is still believed by many to be the main cause behind school shootings.

TikTok user @elisse.01 said, “The year I graduated high school [2018] was, at the time, the worst year for school shootings and … high school students saw anti-bullying campaigns to prevent school shootings all the time. Which is extremely disingenuous because disabled kids, overweight kids, queer kids and kids of color are not shooting up schools. Those kids are the kids who are getting picked on the most. This is solely about entitlement … It is about brats throwing the ultimate tantrum — who are never held accountable for their actions.”

While school shooters may believe that they experience social ostracization and bullying in school, it is wrong to blame bullying for their heinous crimes. There are many victims of bullying in schools and very rarely do they kill their peers. In fact, LGBTQ+ kids, kids of color, kids with physical and learning disabilities, and class-disadvantaged kids are most vulnerable to bullying. Yet, they aren’t the majority of school shooters — around 90% of high school or elementary school shooters are white, male and upper middle class. 

In a following TikTok, @elisse.01 said, “Bullying is intentional harassment. Bullying is not choosing to not interact with somebody. I am so tired of adults telling children that it is their responsibility to keep themselves from being killed, that they have to befriend that … punk so that he doesn’t kill them.”

Administrators had flagged the Oxford High School shooter’s recent, concerning behavior. He was called in to speak with school officials on the days before the shooting. His parents were brought in the morning of the shooting for an in-person meeting about an incident where the perpetrator had drawn a picture of a gun, a bullet, a blood victim and wrote: “help me.” Administrators ordered his parents to find counseling for their child within the next 48 hours. No one from the school thought to search the 15-year-old’s backpack.  

This is perfectly emblematic of the larger issue: school shooters are often coddled — because of who they are — and ignored by parents and authorities in power. Had a Black or brown student so clearly illustrated a violent image, there would have been dire consequences. Blaming bullying is just another extent of this coddling. 

Rather than acknowledging some of the reasons as to why certain white, male students who become school shooters are excluded from their peers — entitled attitudes, white supremacist beliefs and generally malicious personalities — we place the onus of preventing murder on children who could feel uncomfortable engaging with them. There is so much our government can do to prevent these horrible tragedies: conducting extensive background checks, abolishing private gun sales, removing automatic and semi-automatic weapons from public access, placing fees on ammunition, and expanding accessible psychological help centers for adolescents. Anti-bullying campaigns are misdirected efforts. Instead, we need to address the root causes of school shootings. 

Contact Srishti Bungle at [email protected]