Malcolm Gladwell speaks about university shootings.

Texas Southern University, Northern Arizona University Shootings Follow Oregon: Malcolm Gladwell On Epidemic

In the 10 days since the tragic shootings that took 10 lives at Umpqua Community College on October 1, two more have occurred: one at Northern Arizona University where one person is dead and three are wounded, according to the CBC, and another at Texas Southern University where one person is dead and another is wounded, reports the Seattle Times.

In the Northern Arizona University incident, Colin Brough is reported to be dead and Kyle Zientek, Nicholas Prato, and Nicholas Piring are reported to be injured from what started as a fight between two groups of the university’s students, but then took a deadly turn.

In the third shooting in a week, which occurred “on or near the campus” of the university, a Texas Southern University freshman, whose name hasn’t been released, has been shot dead.

“Like President Obama says, this is getting to be too regular,” John Rudley, the president of Texas Southern University stated at a press conference.

After the Umpqua shootings, President Obama asked news outlets for a chart comparing gun deaths in the United States with deaths related to terrorism. The Inquisitr published a chart also including the number of gun deaths in the United Kingdom, which has strict gun laws.

Recent shootings at Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University have the United States on edge.
[Chart Created Using Venngage]
The Northern Arizona University shooting was a result of an argument that got out of hand, a tragic but different situation than what happened in Oregon. The motive behind the Texas Southern University shooting is still being investigated. Yet in each of these cases a reasonable question would be, “Why are there guns on university campuses?”

President Obama is reportedly considering taking “executive action” and implementing new measures in an effort to stop the tide of gun-related violence and deaths, as reported by the Inquisitr.

Author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell, spoke at the New Yorker Festival on October 3 with regard to university and school shootings.

In a video from the event, Gladwell noted that university shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon and identified the 1996 shooting at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington, as a precedent-setting event. The 14-year-old shooter, who is now serving life in prison, killed his algebra teacher and two other students.

Three years after the Frontier Middle School shooting came the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, where 12 students were killed and 21 injured, with several other major incidents in-between.

Gladwell noted that after Columbine is when university and school shootings “really took off.” The author discussed major incidents that occurred up until the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, where 20 students and six teachers were shot dead. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 145 school or university shootings and 45 in the past year, not including the Northern Arizona University or Texas Southern University incidents.

Gladwell then stepped back and examined the data, and concluded that school shootings are a “contemporary phenomenon,” with very few occurring before Frontier Middle School, and that they are a very “American phenomenon.”

Author Malcolm Gladwell speaks days before the Norhern Arizona University shooting.
Malcolm Gladwell speaks at the ‘New Yorker’ Festival on Oct. 3. [Screenshot Courtesy of the ‘New Yorker‘]
“To the extent,” Malcolm Gladwell said, “that anything like this happens anywhere else in the world, it appears to happen as a reflection of something going on here. It appears to have spread from America.”

Beyond these two apparent facts, Gladwell noted, there appears to be no “discernible pattern” that might be able to explain why university and school shootings have become such a common occurrence. Gladwell then offered his opinion on the research of sociologist Mark Granovetter with Stanford University, which he feels might help observers attempt to understand.

Gladwell referenced Granovetter’s 1978 paper “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior,” hosted by the University of Michigan, which attempts to understand riots.

“A riot is a phenomenon where people do things that they would normally never do,” Gladwell stated.

In his paper, Granovetter explains a threshold different people possess. It determines the number of other people performing an immoral act that one would otherwise not participate in, but do once the threshold is passed.

“The first person who throws the rock through through a window has a threshold of zero,” Gladwell explained. “They’re a radical.”

The author then explained that the next person who joins-in is less radical, noting that normally, they would not believe in throwing rocks through windows, but since someone already is, they might as well take part, and that they have a threshold of one. The person who follows them has a threshold of two. And the person who follows them; a threshold of three.

Gladwell explained that this can continue until a person with a threshold of 99 is reached. This person would “never, ever” take part in any sort of riot, unless literally everybody else was first. Gladwell compared this person with his mother.

Gladwell then noted that the perpetrators behind the Columbine attacks had a website and that shooters who followed them also tend to publish similar videos and other media online, often following the same “script” set forth by the Columbine shooters.

“Of the 12 major school shootings that happen in the 8 years after Columbine, more than half explicitly reference Columbine.”

Gladwell then compared the “dynamics of a Granovettian riot” with the seeming explosion of school and university shootings. The Columbine shooters, and others who initially followed, are described as “low threshold radicals.” The script that is now available for high school and university students to follow makes it easier for those with much higher thresholds to “join in.”

“They are bridging the gap between the radicals and everybody else. They are making this particular ‘riot’ more accessible,” Gladwell stated in reference to the Columbine perpetrators.

The “temptation” is to label society as full of “uncivilized savages,” which Gladwell feels is “100 percent wrong.”

“We are now at the point where young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed in order to commit horrific acts,” Gladwell said in summation.

Guns and the framework that school shootings occur within are so ingrained in society’s psyche that incidents like yesterday’s shootings at Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University and last week’s at Umpqua Community College are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Unfortunately, while this analysis may provide insight, Malcolm Gladwell appears to have few suggestions as to how these incidents may be stopped.

[Feature Photo by Araya Diaz / Getty Images for Young Eisner Scholars]

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