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Understanding the Causes of School Violence Using Open Source Data

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2020
85 pages

This research project applied two major criminology theories in a study to gain a better understanding of the causes of school shootings.


One of the theories is Sampson and Laub’s (1993) developmental/life course social control perspective, which seems suited to an explanation for school violence. This perspective includes an extensive set of constructs designed to measure and analyze developmental patterns over the course of individuals’ lives and assess the impact of precursor, enduring, and contemporaneous variables. A second theory examined in relation to school shootings is applied rational choice and situational crime prevention perspectives. This perspective emphasizes individual decision-making and, similar to life-course perspectives, notes the dynamic nature of criminal behavior. Rational choice and situational crime prevention (SCP) argue that for crime to occur, there must be an opportunity to commit the offense. Opportunities vary across situations, and successful interventions are often able to reduce or remove the availability of crime opportunities. The most likely reason that life-course and rational-choice frameworks have not yet been systematically applied to school violence is the lack of reliable empirical data. The current project addressed this gap by creating The American School Shooting Study (TASSS), a national, open-source database that includes all publicly known shootings that resulted in at least one injury on K-12 school grounds in the United States between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 2016. The data obtained from TASSS were analyzed to achieve three objectives: 1) the empirical documentation of the nature of the problem of school shootings; 2) a comprehensive understanding of the perpetrators of school shootings and other significant factors; and 3) a comparison of school shootings in which fatalities occurred and those in which no person is killed and only injuries resulted.  Findings and recommendations for future research are reported. 

Date Published: December 1, 2020