Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Kristie R. Blevins

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

Gary W. Potter

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

Betsy Matthews

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


To quote the renowned criminologist, Dr. Robert Agnew (1992, p. 69), “there are two major types of behavioral coping: those that seek to minimize or eliminate the source of strain and those that seek to satisfy the need for revenge.” In some cases, those who seek satisfaction for their vengeful feelings can become deadly when healthy means of coping fail; many have turned to violence upon their peers in pursuit of resolution. The inability to properly cope with strain might explain why some individuals commit seemingly inexplicable acts of mass violence such as school shootings.

Incidents such as Columbine have culturally defined the public idea of a school shooting, sometimes creating the image of dark and angry teenagers stalking the hallways of every high school in America, all the while plotting a heinous act of unspeakable violence against their peers. Once a safe environment for learning and enrichment for children, these seemingly random acts of violence deconstruct the sense of security associated with schools. In a society that suffers a pervasive fear of crime, school shootings significantly intensify that fear (Rocque, 2012). The current body of research regarding school shootings focuses more on the side effects of a media-induced moral panic and how they create a greater fear of random violence in an environment that is expected to be safe, rather than the conditions and mens rea that contribute to the offenders’ execution of a school shooting (Rocque, 2012). Applying general strain theory to school shooters might be an effective means of explaining potential contributing factors of a school shooting and paving the path for more effective prevention policies.

The purpose of this study is to apply general strain theory to the individual psychological mindsets of offenders who have committed school shootings in order to gain a better understanding of the circumstances and factors which potentially contribute to these heinous acts. Case studies provide the opportunity for a more in-depth analysis of the individual circumstances surrounding each offender and allow for the identification of both singular and cumulative sources of strain. This study will also discuss various sources of strain and demonstrate the effects these factors can have on an individual. Approaching the issue of school shootings from a perspective based on general strain theory supports the notion that school shootings are neither random nor illogical; in fact, the data in this study can be used to provide evidence contrary to the popular belief that school shootings are random and senseless crimes.

Included in

Criminology Commons