Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.

America mourns new gun rampage
School shootings deliberately target communities’ security.

If it can happen in an isolated and tightly-knit Amish community, who is safe? It's the question haunting American parents this morning. Five young girls are now dead, and another six lie injured in hospital, after they were lined up by a gunman and shot execution- style in a schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania.

School shootings are rare and often random. But there was nothing random about this. The gunman let the boys and their teachers go and then turned his wrath on the girls.

This was the third school shooting in the US in the past week: a 16-year-old girl died after an armed man took six students hostage at a Colorado high school, and a high school principal in Wisconsin was killed by a 15-year-old student.

It is difficult to answer the question 'Why is this happening?' The perpetrators of school violence are seldom driven by a single motive. In some cases - as in Wisconsin - the killer is a disgruntled student. In others - as in Colorado and now Pennsylvania - the murderer is a male adult gunman with little or no connection to the scene of the violence.

It has been suggested that the executioner of the four Amish girls sought to extract revenge against women. But if it is simply a case of misogynist malice, why did he let a pregnant teacher leave the school?

What's really important about the outburst of school shootings is not the motives of the killers but their target. The killing of children in a supposedly safe environment undermines the sense of security of the entire community. This is an event that everyone takes note of. It is the guarantee of recognition that drives destructive passions towards the schoolhouse.

Published on The First Post, 3 October 2006