- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Three-quarters of the nation's middle- and high-school students say they fear a shooting could occur at their school, and nearly one-fourth said they could easily get a gun if they wanted to act against a classmate, according to a new survey of teen attitudes on school violence.

Since the shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School in April 1999, education officials, law enforcement officers, safety and mental health organizations have rallied to urge students to inform authorities on pupils who may have threatened to carry out revenge at school. Many districts have created hot lines that allows students to call in tips anonymously.

Despite their efforts, only half of American teens said they would take the initiative to tell a teacher, parent or other adult, according to researchers at New York's Alfred University, who released results from a new poll yesterday in Washington.

The national survey of 2,017 seventh- to 12th-grade students was conducted by Harris Interactive in June and July, and is the first ever to ask American teens about their views on acts of violence at schools.

The findings paint a shocking picture of student attitudes toward school violence, said the researchers, who add that schools remain "safe places," but violence is unpredictable. Since 1974, 37 "lethal" incidents have occurred at U.S. schools, with countless "near misses," never reported in the media, researchers said.

"Students seem to know who in their schools have the potential for violence, and what might drive them to shoot someone in school," said Edward Gaughan, a professor of psychology at Alfred University and leader of the school-violence study.

Thirty-seven percent of teens surveyed said they knew someone in their school who might shoot someone else, and about 20 percent said they had actually heard a classmate say they planned to shoot someone, Mr. Gaughan said. Eight percent of students said they'd thought of shooting someone at school, and another 10 percent had gone so far as to mentally plan how to carry it out.

"As parents, as educators and as school psychologists, those are numbers we have to be concerned about," Mr. Gaughan said. "We know, based on the shootings that have occurred in the schools, that they are not impulsive. They are planned. They are premeditated."

The teens, who were polled online and by phone, told researchers they wanted better relationships with adults in their lives, Alfred University psychology professor Jay D. Cerio said. Teachers, he said, are "key role models," and are more likely to be sought out for help over guidance counselors or coaches.

Students in the East, South, Midwest and West rated rural schools as most dangerous over their urban and suburban counterparts. Students in the South called urban schools the least dangerous, while those in the East, Midwest and West rated urban schools moderately dangerous.

Eighty-seven percent of teens said revenge, or "getting back at those who have hurt them," is why students shoot others at school.

Students, he said, want teachers to step in and take action when they see a student being bullied or taunted or hurt by a classmate. Twenty-three percent said that teachers need to care more about their students.

"We cannot just slough off the verbal, physical and emotional abuse to which our children are exposed in school as 'just being kids,'" Mr. Cerio said. "When that happens, we increase the risk that the hurt, shame and anger these kids are feeling boil over into violence, sometimes murderous violence."

Boys in the 11th and 12th grades who don't feel valued at home or at school are more likely to carry out a school shooting, researchers said. Violence in the media ranked 11th out of 16 reasons that students gave for school shootings; getting back at someone who hurt them was No. 1.

Sixty-one percent said being victims of physical abuse was the reason students shoot classmates, while 54 percent said teens who witness violence in their homes tend to be violent themselves.

Of those students deemed by researchers as having a propensity for violence, 27 percent told researchers that nothing could be done to stop them for acting out.

Actual student responses showed "chilling" moments of honesty: "If we want to shoot someone, we will," said one. "The human being is a very strong thing when it stands alone," said another.

"If we want to do something bad enough," yet another said, "we will find a way, no matter what."

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