Criminology: Charles Whitman Investigation

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Investigation:

Because violence is such a broad topic it’s worthwhile to take a look at a particular type of violence. Mass shootings in America are a real and serious problem and something has to be done to reduce, and hopefully, stop them from happening. But before we can figure out a solution and/or prevention strategy, we need to understand why they’re happening.

Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States of America

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Here you can see the dramatic rise in mass shootings in the United States over the past century. Why is this happening?

Here you can see the dramatic rise in mass shootings in the United States over the past century. Why is this happening?

When I was a high school student the Columbine Shooting in Colorada, USA made worldwide headlines. It was a terrible tragedy and one I could never imagine happening, or happening again.

Why have there been more deaths in the US by domestic gun violence in the past fourty years than in all the wars the country has fought in?

One obvious argument is because guns are readily accessible and too easy to get. There is a lot of merit in this argument, but we want to delve deeper. And there has to be more to the story than just being able to own a gun. I myself own five guns (for hunting) and have never once thought about using them on another human being.

So what other possible explanations are there? This is an exceptionally broad problem and one that is impossible to answer definitely. We will instead explore possible explanations for the rise in gun violence in the USA.

Teacher Tip¹: By focusing on a particular issue you can ensure you’re teaching is contextually based. Mass murders in the US is a relevant topic for everyone, even non-US citizens because if we can understand the problems faced in the US perhaps we can reduce the chances that it will happen in our own country. But feel free to choose an investigation that is more contextually relevant for you. Most, if not all, of the explanations below can serve as a good starting point for students to begin hypothesizing explanations for specific types of violence behaviour.


Case Study: Charles Whitman

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Charlest Whitman: a seemingly normal man who shot 14 people dead in 1961.

Before we begin looking at the United States as a whole, it’s worthwhile looking at one infamous case.

Whitman’s atrocious acts in 1961 are often used as the chronological starting point for investigations into modern gun crime in the US, so we’ll start here as well. It’s a valuable case study as well because there are multiple possible explanations for why he did what he did.

You can read more about statistics on gun violence in America in this BBC article or in this article from the US newspaper the Washington Post.

Charles Whitman: What Happened?

You can watch the whole documentary on Charles Whitman below, which goes into details about the course of the shootings and what actually happened. If you already know the story, watch only the first 15 minutes. As you’re watching, be listening for details that might give you some clues as to why he did this. Remember though, you’re not going to “crack this case”. There are no definitive answers and no-one will ever truly know. All we can do is theorise and hypothesize. We’re also practicing being able to apply psychological research to address problems (i.e. answer questions).

If you’d prefer to read about what happened, you can read this news article that was originally published on August 2nd, 1966 (i.e. the day after the event).
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy1B5mfzCBA]

Conclusion: Are any one of these explanations sufficient for why a seemingly normal man would commit such a terrible act?

Exam Tip: There are as many explanations for the causes of violence as there are types of violence themselves, so it’s important to remember to keep your conclusions open. Making bold claims like: “media causes violence” is reductionist, i.e. it’s over-simplifying.


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Could there be a connection between health and violence in the US? What other factors might be causing the increases in violence?

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