Fame-Seeking School Shooters: Who Are They?

It’s 2020, and the rate of school shootings has never shown any sign of slowing down. But over recent years, the idea that media sensationalism has become a cause of school shootings has gained some traction. In short, the media has had such an influence that the school shooters of today are now young kids who want posthumous notoriety. But there’s a fundamental issue with this argument that renders it shortsighted. Imagine a seventeen-year-old male student who has everything going for him in his life. He’s got loving parents, he’s in good mental, emotional, and physical shape, and he’s doing well in school. But let’s say he wants international fame in the media, due to seeing how it has created a celebrity culture that “glorifies” school shooters. He marches into his school with an AR-15 and shoots down dozens of students, staff, and faculty.

See the problem here? It’s true that the rate of school shootings has risen significantly along with the rate of media coverage of the perpetrators. It’s true that school shooters are younger than ever before. But no reasonable person would assert that anyone in their right mind is capable of making the decision to commit mass murder, no matter how much they want fame. It’s just not worth the moral cost. Most school shooters are really just emotionally and/or mentally disturbed people with little to no morals who have likely suffered unfortunate circumstances in the household.

Contrary to popular belief, the motivations of school shooters don’t boil down to bullying, exposure to violence, or a desire for internet fame. It’s psychological issues and trauma. Peter Langman, director of KidsPeace, an organization that treats at-risk youth, suggests, in his book, Why Kids Kill, that “these are not ordinary kids who want to be famous. These are simply not ordinary kids. These are kids with serious psychological problems. This fact has been missed or minimized in reports on school shooters.” He strategically divided known mass shooters into categories: Psychopathic, Psychotic, and Traumatized. According to Langman’s findings, sadism and exposure to gun culture contribute to creating psychopathic shooters, excessive substance abuse and parental rejection contribute to creating psychotic shooters, and violent fathers contribute to creating traumatized shooters who are more likely to falter under peer pressure.

To explain how mass shootings are caused and planned out, authors Jack Levin and Eric Madfis proposed a five-stage model in which multiple criminological theories (such as strain theory, control theory, and routine activities theory) were integrated. Such a model suggested that long-term frustrations experienced early in life or in adolescence—whether in home or at school—lead to social isolations. These strains and the child’s lack of support systems cause any short-term negative event to be devastating, rendering him mentally and emotionally disturbed. This leads to the planning stage, during which the child fantasizes about situations in which they are the perpetrators of mass murder. Then the massacre eventually happens. The analysises of multiple school shootings such as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre seemed to be consistent with Levin and Madfis’ model.

The analyses of Levin, Madfis, and Langman all point to the conclusion that no amount of desire for fame will ever make a child want to commit mass murder if they are stable people. Aside from that, 80 school shootings ended in the shooter committing suicide, and 18 ended with the shooter being killed by law enforcement. Is it really logical to assert that some short-lived media notoriety alone would satisfy someone if it meant killing dozens of innocent children? The short answer is no. This desire may be a small factor when disturbed children are taken into consideration, but little more.

America has a deep problem with psychological illnesses that the media has neglected to notice. We need to find a way to effectively detect and address such problems early in people’s childhood and perhaps limit their access to weapons. We should not let limiting or outright banning media coverage of shooters become our primary concern.


Chen, Lisa, “The Effects of Media Coverage on Mass Shootings in the United States” (2018). Advanced Writing: Pop Culture Intersections. 31.

Langman, Peter. Why Kids Kill: inside the Minds of School Shooters. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Madfis, Eric. “In Search of Meaning: Are School Rampage Shootings Random and Senseless Violence?” Taylor & Francis,

“Ten Years of Mass Shootings in the United States.”,

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7 Responses to Definition–Tenere84

  1. tenere84 says:

    So, what do you think about my arguments, Mister David? One thing I’m afraid of is perhaps I’ve made too many causal arguments when this is a definition/categorical argument. But again, not sure.

  2. davidbdale says:

    There’s plenty to like here, Tenere, but yeah, it’s pretty causal in nature. Don’t worry so much about that. Eventually, you’ll have to cover categorical, causal, evidentiary and rhetorical approaches, so wherever they fall is fine in the end. But when you spend so much time explaining the process by which shooters are formed, you crowd out opportunities for other sorts of arguments.

    To be honest, I got a little lost in your sequence, so I’m going to condense your paragraphs down to sentences and see how they outline.

    1. Media coverage couldn’t contribute to school shootings if the shooter were a well-adjusted and stable youth with a bright future.

    2. Only a mentally ill person could justify the moral outrage of a mass shooting as a way to earn fame.

    3. Mass shooters are mentally ill; either Psychopathic, Psychotic, or Traumatized.

    4. Traumatized youth isolate themselves from social support that might have thwarted their plans to perpetrate mass shootings.

    5. Mass shooters don’t live long enough to enjoy their own notoriety.

    6. The ability of deeply troubled youth to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction—not media attention to the killings—is the problem America needs to address.

  3. davidbdale says:

    This boils down to a very simple definition that might not be specific enough to eliminate millions of youth who are disturbed and socially isolated youth who DO NOT GO ON KILLING SPREES. There’s a big causal gap between: 1) isolates from social support and 2) plans to murder all his classmates. I don’t see much in your argument that narrows down the really big category of disaffected youth to Murderous Megakiller Kids. That might be a good place to concentrate your effort to produce a persuasive Definition/Categorical Argument.

    • tenere84 says:

      So you recommend a look at the differences between disturbed/socially isolated kids who commit mass murder and those who don’t? As a Definition/Categorical argument? Seems like a good plan but might cause some more overlap between my Definition and Causal papers, as that could be a solid defense for identifying the path to mass murder in my Causal.

      • davidbdale says:

        I do recognize that conflict, Tenere, as you do, but so will attentive readers unlikely to grant your conclusion if it admits millions of counterexamples. Of course the assassin was motivated by a delusional belief that he could alter history, but countless non-assassins also believe they will alter history by less violent means. So what makes the assassin pick up the gun if it’s NOT his desire to change the world? I’m not trying to undermine your argument, just alert you to how your arguments will be perceived.

        • tenere84 says:

          I certainly understand your point, Professor. I wasn’t necessarily worried that the conflict would undermine or discredit my arguments themselves, but more that these overlapping/duplicate arguments may demonstrate a lack of effort and/or a misunderstanding of how to approach these assignments. So more of a class/assignment-related conflict rather than an argument/rhetoric issue.

          • davidbdale says:

            Not to worry. The nature of these Short Arguments is that, as elements of a work-in-progress, they necessarily morph and swap elements as they develop. Ultimately, their boundaries disappear, and they blend into whatever presentation sequence works best.

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