Swans Commentary » swans.com June 5, 2006  



Joseph Lieberman's The Shooting Game


by George Beres


Book Review



Lieberman, Joseph: The Shooting Game, Seven Locks Press, Santa Ana, California, March 2006, ISBN 1-931643-83-0, 328 pages, $17.95 (paperback)


(Swans - June 5, 2006)  "Why here?" was the reaction of many when the shooting of students by a fellow classmate at Springfield's Thurston High School grabbed national headlines in May, 1998. A new book based on an Oregon researcher's study reveals school shootings to be nothing new, but a historical tragedy from which educators and society have not learned.

The Shooting Game, by journalist Joseph Lieberman of Eugene, Springfield's cross-river neighbor, reviews the Thurston shooting in the context of a national -- even global -- pattern:

Why does it happen anywhere?

Why does it persist in happening?

Concern in Oregon takes on greater immediacy in light of a shooting last February at a high school 60 miles south of Springfield, just a month before publication of Lieberman's book.

A 14-year-old shot a classmate while they were in the schoolyard of Roseburg High School. His weapon was a handgun smuggled out of his home. A day earlier in the nearby town of Sutherlin, a 15-year-old high school boy was arrested for having a loaded handgun in his school locker. Then a week later, four teens were arrested for bringing a gun to school. Amazingly, this was at Springfield High School, only a few miles from Thurston.

Had parents, teachers, and school officials been able to read Lieberman's The Shooting Game before the Thurston tragedy, it might have been prevented through measures taken at home and at school. Lieberman is an Oregon journalist who has completed the first comprehensive book on the causes and history of school shootings dating from 1974. He reveals what he has found to be the linked nature and common roots of school shootings: workplace rampages and suicidal terrorist acts.

The primary focus in the survey of dozens of school shootings and near-shootings in the past three decades is the attack at Thurston. It is the only case where the shooter was arrested the previous day for having a gun in his school locker, and then released. Kip Kinkel, then 15, shot to death both his teacher parents at home; the next day killing two classmates and wounding 25, the largest number in the history of such shootings.

The book identifies causal similarities from the earliest attacks to the most recent. Its scope crosses international borders with the 2002 school shooting in Erfurt, Germany, that killed 17. As Lieberman connects the dots of many shooting parallels, he offers startling conclusions that must be addressed by schools nationwide to prevent more from occurring.

Lieberman suggests how -- when terrifying reality hits close to us -- society needs to study warning signs it ignored. His views are reinforced by Springfield Fire Chief Dennis Murphy, founder of "Ribbon of Promise," a national campaign to prevent school violence.

Early reaction to the Thurston shooting was that it came "without warning." That was not the case, as Lieberman found during three years of research into school shootings. "Thurston," he says, "was a tragedy waiting to happen. That it happened here was an accident of fate which resulted in the teenage gunman being enrolled at Thurston."

School shootings that preceded Springfield's indicate they are something more than copycat coincidences. Lieberman has found something deeper at play in the psyches of the involved children. It can involve a thinking mode that causes them to see only one solution to their problems, an option that for a troubled child can become violent. Such a thinking pattern can cause the child to see people as targets, especially if fueled by years of playing video games with violent themes.

His research reveals a seasonal pattern in school shootings that should make teachers and administrators especially alert in the spring of the year. The Thurston shooting in May was one of a national series of eight successive shootings that occurred in the season when the school year comes to a close.

If our civilization is to survive, he writes, we must study, recognize, and learn to cope with the violence that overtakes some children, and which can be symptomatic of violence within society itself.


· · · · · ·
Lieberman, Joseph: The Shooting Game, Seven Locks Press, Santa Ana, California, March 2006, ISBN 1-931643-83-0, 328 pages, $17.95 (paperback)

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Published June 5, 2006