School Shootings from a Conflict and Exchange Theoretical Perspective


For a long period of time, there have been increased cases of violence in schools, and more specifically mass shooting. Due to the negative effects of these violent activities, there is a need to determine the major causes of such. It is not just any teenager who is prone to participating in violence and thus there are specific causes and environmental upbringing which fosters such behaviors (Wike & Fraser, 2009). On most occasions, school children engage in killing activities because they have been subjected to disturbance and are pushed to the edge. School shootings is an example of such violence which is most cases is quite terrifying. One such occurrence was reported in Texas Tower in the University of texas in 1966 (Ferguson, 2008). Since then, many more cases have been reported in schools. The choice for this topic is due to the increased cases of the school shootings which have happened in the society in recent years. The effects of school shootings leave the school and the families of the victims with horrible impacts in their lives. Therefore, this essay aims at exploring the topic of school shootings from a conflict and exchange theoretical perspectives.

School shootings

Although the public mass shootings are quite rare, they still occur especially in schools and cause sudden violence which in most cases is unprecedented. When a mass shooting takes place in the United States, the common question is ‘why’ or how the perpetrator committed the said crime. Therefore, a detailed understanding of how a person can pick up a gun and kill so many people, especially the young perpetrators in school, has always been a difficult thing (Mulvey, & Cauffman, 2001). Once these acts have been performed, the media on most occasions picks up the topic and begins speculations. One school shooting occurrence was in 1999 at Columbine high school in which fifteen people including the perpetrators died, while many others were seriously injured (Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014). Thus homicides are described as attacks which have homicidal effects on many people. A topology exists which differentiates between various forms of mass killings. For instance, the instrumental mass killings occur as a result of a large scale whereby homicide is a means to an end. In this case, the intention of the perpetrator is aimed at achieving certain objectives like revenge. The victim-specific killings are where there are intended victims to specific people.

On the other hand, the massacres are characterized by indiscriminate killings whose primary intention is to cause harm to other people. For the mass shootings to take place the following components are quite important: predisposers, precipitants and crime facilitators. The predisposers are the preconditions which accumulate in an individual for a long period of time. These conditions are integrated into the concept and personalities thus driving a person to commit mass killings. This causes personality dynamics due to environmental conditions causing a skewed self-esteem, alongside anxiety and depression. Considering a predisposer like frustration, this might lead to extra punitive blame which ensues in the process of committing a mass murder. The precipitants refer to the actual shorter facts which make one to engage in the actual murder activities. On the other hand, the facilitators are the conditions which depend on situations that enable the access to weapons to be used such as guns in the case of shootings.

The conflict theory

There has been and increased debate concerning the human nature, intergroup violence and evolution of war. There are some behaviors such as aggression and altruistic which are very common to human beings. The warfare became institutionalized at the time when the people who were victims of attack or being threatened took some defense measures. Within the society, there are some common beliefs which enhance some actions like defense and security through the claims of resources and values of the society (Bartos & Wehr, 2002). The issues of violence in a society such as mass killings, shooting, terrorism and genocide cannot be solely blamed on the sadistic perpetrators. Therefore, the existence of conflicts, either gender-based, ethnic or among minorities, could fuel violence leading to shootings at schools. For instance, among the ethnic groups, there are a number of grievances which exists among such groups. Moreover, such grievances are coupled by culturally burdened memories, fears and hostile emotions. According to this theory, even flowing prolonged period of calmness, peace and accommodation among different groups, there are hostile incidences which can arise and escalate leading to destruction of property and loss of lives. This theory is also described to be quite pessimistic in terms of stopping, preventing and managing the possibilities of such conflicts among the people by adopting various reforms, policies and measures (Jonson et al., 2017). To prevent such conflicts, some common measures to take would include separating various territories, and separating various conflicting institutions.

In other cases, the mass shootings in schools could be a result of politically fueled conflict. In this case, some ethnic communities can feel threatened due to a change in the prevailing and dominant identity politics. This is because in the society, there are common cases of ethnocentrism and self-defense within groups which is favored through evolutionary systems. A large collective violence such as a school shooting could be termed as a coordinated destruction (Morrison, 2006). This is because these destructions emerge from both small and large tyrannies which emerge in low capacities. According to this conflict theory, other possible causes of conflicts that fuel mass killings include poverty, divisive myths, identity politics and a divided and failed State. The conflict theory also described mass killings in the form of microdynamics whereby they can result from revenge killings. In conflict theory, the concept of conflict management is emphasized in an effort to reduce such killings in the society (Bartos & Wehr, 2002). Therefore, the development of school shooting cases globally could be fueled by the development of conflicts between students and their peers, and students and the school administration. In some cases, the school shooting ordeals are a result of mental illnesses but this is not always the case.

The social exchange theory

This is an important social psychology theory which is involved in the social exchanges in the process of interaction and exchange among the people. This theory views human beings’ interactions to be a result driven and a social behavior. According to Blau, there is an interaction which is shaped by the reciprocal of the changes in the rewards which are either tangible or intangible. Therefore, any interaction is elaborated as a way of exchange whereby a participant offers other people more than themselves possess (Cropanzano et al., 2016). It is driven by the costs as well as rewards which make the humans to portray a certain behavior. The costs of an action in this theory are the possible negative effects of a decision made like energy and time. On the other hand, the rewards are the perceived benefits resulting from the social exchanges. According to the social exchange theory, there is competition among human beings in aspects of life. The exchange between social actors is pure and quite concentrated. This is because it offers a platform in which many people inter into a form of interaction to meet some specified needs. The social exchange theoretical perspective does not relate the probability of engaging in violence to be based on the male gender. Thus the cross culture creates a universal sex difference in human beings on the usage of violence either physical or by the use of homicide and slaughter of animals. In many cases, the perpetrators of mass killings and other forms of violence have been found to be young males who are competitive and suffering from aggression (Leary et al., 2015).

The development of shootings at schools is elaborated by the social exchange theory since most perpetrators are in the ages of puberty since crime is described to be a ‘law of nature to them’. In some instances, the youth engage in violent activities as a means of gaining social status recognition or gain wealth. On the other hand, mass killings like shooting can be perpetrated as a result of high levels of aggression that have developed through psychosocial methods. According to Newman (2004), based on study of a small high school shootings, when some people remain after work or school, even their personalities remain with them and they might be tempted to commit mass shooting. After the accumulation of aggression, these people have nothing left in them to invest in the community, making them release anger through violence. Additionally, Vossekuil reported that nearly more than two thirds of the people who committed shooting acts in schools had never been in any trouble while at school. This is because their behaviors have never been so intense to an extent of alerting the school about the behaviors. Based on the social exchange theory, Vossekuil et al., (2002) also noted that the great number of school shooters (that is forum out of five) had been reported to have suffered since they had cases of attempted suicide in the past, before opening the fire to schools.

Comparison between these theoretical perspectives

While these theories have different origins, they all seek to explain the causes of shooting in schools. They play fundamental roles in that they help to answer the questions which linger in the minds of the people when school shooting occurrence take place. These two theories are similar in that they describe the possible factors that could lead a person into committing mass murder. For instance, the social conflict theory by Blau argues in order for an action to be taken, there needs to be a source of positive reinforcements which exists in the form of satisfactions and pleasure. These rewards can be classified as personal satisfaction, acceptance in the society, compliance, and respect. On the other hand, the conflict theory argues that the development of violence in a society is fueled by some differences which arise such as politics, disagreements, and poverty among many others.

Effects of school shootings

The school shootings have several effects to the victims, their families and the rest of the students. The school shootings can result into other forms of violence due to the sadness which ensues from school shootings. One of the ways in which school shootings affect the school goers is that these students might experience anxiety related to the events which took place. They therefore live in fear that similar events could happen again in future. Sadness can also affect the students by causing sadness especially for the learners who lose their lives or get injured in the process.

Active shooting incidences have been witnessed in recent times where an active shooting incident is the occurrence of a crime where many people are involved in random and ongoing shooting. The main objectives of these shooters is to cause mass murders and achieve certain objectives. The aftermath of these school shooting incidences are characterized by deaths and psychological torture and trauma to the respective school and the community in general. According to Mitchell, 2013), more than 250 people have been killed in the United States through active shooting. Focusing on school violence, Moore et al., (2003) reported that between the rears 1992 to 2001, there were thirsty five cases of violence in schools in which students were found bringing with them weapons at school or school related events. This indicates the vulnerability of such weapons being used to cause destruction and death at school through violence.


The increased cases of shooting in schools has propelled the need for understanding this problem at greater depths. This is because the accompanying effects of shooting at schools leaves behind so many people dead while many more are injured. Thus the two theoretical perspectives namely; the conflict and social exchange theories have been used to describe the possible causes of mass killings. This offers a path through lowering the cases of shooting at schools which makes the survivors live in fear of a possible event occurring again. There is a need to develop strategies of preventing future deaths at school by beefing up security, introducing controlled access to the schools, installation of metallic materials detectors, and offering intensive training to staff and students on how to react when a mass shooter gets into the school compound. Once shooting takes place, high levels of panic develops leading to fear.