This paper examines the murders at Columbine High School that resulted in the death of 12 students, one teacher, and the two students who carried out the violent attack. It considers the possible reasons that this event occurred, using a social psychology approach. The tragedy inspired considerable speculation in a variety of sources, blaming everything from violence in the culture to psychopathology. While an exact reason may never be clear, some of the forces that drove Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to begin shooting are worth examination. Such a massacre may not be preventable, but some of the underlying reasons that it happened can be studied and used as warning signs of future violence.
On the morning of April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, walked onto the high school campus and began shooting. Outside, they shot two students and set off bombs on the school roof. Inside, they walked to the cafeteria and opened fire, then went upstairs to the library, continuing to shoot. Nancy Gibbs (1999, May 3) writes, "Before they fired their last two shots into their own heads, the killers fired off an estimated 900 rounds, using two sawed-off shotguns, a 9mm semiautomatic carbine and a TEC-DC 9 semiautomatic handgun" (p. 34). They left behind more than 30 bombs, planted throughout the school, the bodies of 12 classmates and one teacher, and a list of unanswered questions.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may simply have been insane, acting out their insanity in a well-planned display of psychotic violence. More likely, however, their actions were the result of a complex series of cultural, social, and psychological influences in which neither boy was a blameless victim but instead acted out his violent aggression in a particularly horrifying way, spurred on by a number of larger forces.
Aggression is violent behavior intended to harm another, either physically or verbally. Experts d...