Small towns aren't immune from school shooting rampages, a psychologist told a statewide panel looking at school security issues in Oklahoma.
“In these rampage shootings like Newtown and Columbine, the median town size was only about 9,000,” said Ryan Brown, associate professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma. “If you only have 9,000 people in your town, you don't have four high schools, five or six junior highs. You have one.”
Brown presented research findings to the Oklahoma Commission on School Security. The commission met for the third time Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol.
Brown discussed the honor culture, a social system that focuses on the earning and maintenance of reputation.
Men are revered for strength and toughness; women are valued for loyalty and purity.
It's common in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central and South America, Brown said.
It's also common in parts of the southern and western United States, he said, and Oklahoma is considered an honor culture state.
Honor cultures are associated with higher rates of depression, suicide, accidental death, risk taking, lower mental health care funding and argument-related homicides, Brown said. Students are more likely to bring weapons to school or attempt a school bombing.
School shootings — and especially rampage shootings — are also more common, Brown said.
The good news, though, is that school shooters in honor cultures are more likely to talk about their plans, Brown said.
“In almost every case, the perpetrators of these shootings have told someone their plans,” Brown said. “This creates an opportunity for us to prevent these attacks.”
Capturing intelligence such as this has been a topic the commission has discussed previously.
The group heard from another expert in the field Tuesday: David Cid, executive director for the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.
Improving physical security won't necessarily deter attackers, Cid said.
“The tendency of terrorists to go toward a soft target is almost universal,” Cid said. “Therefore, if we harden some targets, we just redirect their interest to a softer one.”
Active shooter incidents are on the rise, and Cid said he expects copycats to follow.
About 1 in 4 active shooter events take place in schools, he said.
Cid talked to the commission about the school siege in Beslan, Russia, in 2004.
About 30 terrorists took over an elementary school for three days, and 331 people — including 186 children — died in the fighting that ensued. Many clues leading up to the attack were overlooked or ignored, Cid said.
“Could it happen here? Sure, it could,” Cid said. “Is it likely to happen? No, but we should consider it a possibility. ... We are much better positioned to prevent a Beslan.”