Blame Attribution, Race, and Ethnicity in Juvenile Perpetuated School Shootings
By: Grace Meyer    Email:  email@example.com
Home Town: Sandpoint, Idaho    High School: Sandpoint High School, 2019
Major: Psychology, Sociology-Ineql & Glblztn Emph, Sociology-Criminology Emph
Department: Psychology/Communication Studies, Sociology & Anthropology
College: College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences
Following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the United States experienced a rise in school-based gun violence. As a result, the public has looked for someone to blame, directing attention towards the perpetrator, schools, law enforcement, and gun policy. Particularly, parents have born the burden of responsibility for their child’s actions, viewed by the community as negligent, blamed for improper storage of weapons, insufficient mental health care, or otherwise encouraging violence. Although parents may face such scrutiny, it is unclear if this is a uniform experience or if select characteristics determine the extent of the blame. For example, does the race of the offender influence how the public and the media portray a shooter’s parents? This kind of analysis is absent from the research literature and this student-led research project seeks to address this deficit.
We examined six school shootings that occurred between 2008 to 2016. The sample was matched on perpetrator age, date of event, and victim outcome but varied on racial and ethnic characteristics. To identify blame attribution, we completed a comparative media analysis, capturing and coding content indicating blame directed towards parents. Results indicate that race and ethnicity moderately influence blame attribution. This suggests that these characteristics may be an important factor in determining the severity of blame directed towards parents for the actions of their child. This finding adds to an important and comprehensive narrative of how the public interprets these factors differently and how the distribution of responsibility may be uneven amongst certain demographically-defined groups.
Following the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, the United States witnessed a general increase in planned and targeted school shootings (Schultz et al., 2013). Given the fact that the majority of these incidents have been carried out by youth, public attention has shifted to the parents, blaming them for the actions of their child. This blame is evident in media attention and depictions of the parents following large-scale school shootings. Although the research literature has examined the responsibility attributed to the parent and the importance of parents in preventing school shooting (e.g., Barbieri & Connell, 2015), there is no analysis of how differences in the shooter’s demographics may influence the severity of blame placed on the parent. This study seeks to answer the question: does the race of the offender affect public response (as measured by media coverage) towards the parents of the shooter?
The study is a comparative media analysis consisting of three phases I) identifying school shootings that meet my inclusion criteria, II) collecting media sources that report on the sample incidents, particularly sources that discuss the parents of the shooter, and III) completing content analysis on these media sources.
Methodology and Objective
- Identifying previous school shootings perpetrated by juvenile offenders up to eighteen years of age. Utilizing public databases for primary sample selection to narrow number of cases and create consistency within variables including age, date of event, and number of victims killed/wounded. This will allow me to match each case (to control for these variables) so that I can then examine the influence of race on media reports.
- Researching media coverage on each case in sample. Examining if the media attributed blame to the family of shooter. Performing quality control to ensure information is accurate and thorough.
- Completing analysis on collected media coverage to understand the differences in blame attribution in regard to varying demographics.
The objective of the study is to compare and contrast how the media assigns blame to the parents of juvenile school shooters based on their race. Although blame attribution towards parents has been the focus of a previous studies, we do not have enough information to understand if guardians receive equal levels of blame due to their child’s race. Do some parents experience a type of secondary victimization, firstly from their child’s actions and secondly from public perceptions of responsibility? Is race a factor that influences blame attribution in school shootings? These questions are both timely and theoretically supported. As the United States experiences an upsurge in public awareness about the relationship between race, violence, and social response, questions of the kind identified here become particularly pressing. In addition, criminological and sociological conflict theories suggest that blame attribution may be driven by perceived social standing, informed in part by race characteristics (Bartos & Wehr; 2002).
Our findings suggest that race and ethnicity moderately influence blame attribution. Most notably, the Black individual (69.23%) and the Latinx individual (65%) had higher rates of implicit blame attribution than other individuals. They also had the highest rates of explicit blame at 7.69% and 50%, respectively. Additionally, two of three white individuals had zero indications of explicit blame. All but one sample had more examples of implicit blame than explicit. These findings contribute to a larger narrative of how the public interprets school shootings and assesses uneven culpability amongst racial and ethic groups.
Barbieri, N., & Connell, N. M. (2015). A cross-national assessment of media reactions and blame finding of student perpetrated school shootings. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(1), 23-46.
Bartos, O. J., & Wehr, Paul Ernest. (2002). Using conflict theory. Cambridge University Press.
Shultz, J. M., Cohen, A. M., Muschert, G. W., & Flores de Apodaca, R. (2013). Fatal school shootings and the epidemiological context of firearm mortality in the United States. Disaster health, 1(2), 84–101. https://doi.org/10.4161/dish.26897
|Poster||Blame Attribution, Race and Ethnicity in Juvenile Perpetuated School Shootings||November 19, 2021|
Additional Project Information:
Year in College Project Started:  Senior
Faculty Advisor:   Omi  Hodwitz
Faculty Advisor Email:   firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding Source:  University of Idaho Office of Undergraduate Research Grant
Project Location:   Moscow, Idaho