How the Labeling Theory Can Explain the Behavior of the Shooters in the 1999 Columbine School Shooting

Looking at back at the Columbine tragedy there are many ways to interpret what happened and what caused such an act of violence and anger. With the information known about both shooters, Harris and Klebold, it is apparent that there were signs that these boys exhibited anger and other anti-social behavior, and it is Labeling Theory that helps explains why these boys were led to delinquent behavior. According to reports and investigation in the boys lives‘ it was found that both Eric Harris and Dylan Keblod were not popular in their high school and were labeled as outcasts who part of small gang of ‘misfits‘. According to labeling theory study by Bernburg, Krohn, and Rivera in 2006, it is stated that those labeled outsiders will often avoid the normal group and will often form a group made up of others with antisocial behaviors, thus explaining the involvement in the “Trench Coat Mafia”.

These two boys, although not a unique case, were often bullied by what they called the ‘jocks‘ and had previously mentioned that they would one day take revenge on the jocks. So it can be seen the overall pressures of being bullied in school and quite possibly lack of attention given to their situation may have caused the build up to the horrible act of violence by the two shooters After investigations it was found that the boys had shown many signs of anti-social behavior, one of the most obvious signs that the boys were experiencing stress and problems was when Harris and Keblod made a film for a school project that showed them walking the halls of school with guns. Although not mentioned directly there were other signs that these boys were troubled as it was reported to school officials that expressed concern for the boy’s behavior, but were dismissed because no act was committed.

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Another part of the investigation revealed that the boys were very interested in pipe bombs and guns, and they even managed to get an older boy to buy them guns from a gun expoi Also Harris ran a website where he expressed his anger towards both students and teachers at Columbine High School. With so many different signs and knowledge of the two boys‘ behavior it can be seen that there were many opportunities to intervene or address the two students’ anger and violence issues. Being associated with the Trench Coat Mafia allowed for the boys behavior to be accepted or thought of as normal for the outcast group. As discussed earlier, by Labeling Theory it is the fact that they were seen as outcasts that they were even part of the group of misfits. This involvement may signify what is defined as secondary deviance, where the boys accept their label and continue to fulfill their description. On the day of the attack the boys wore their large trench coats, and at this point no one found it unusual, because this was their signature as the Trench Coat Mafia, This allowed them to carry and hide weapons on them into the school unnoticed.

Thus helping them carry out the attack without any warning. Looking back at what occurred that day, many believe that school authorities could have implemented and taken more preventative measure to possibly stop that act and many future acts from occurring With many teachers and students aware of the troubling behavior it could have been possible provide services for the boys and other students who are being bullied or having other problems. Such services could be providing an on campus therapist or educating the students as whole about the effects of bullying This allows teachers to notice signs of troubling behavior and provide the students with aid, In this case, the behavior was reported, but the officials said nothing could be done because they had not committed an act, which implies they were thinking of a disciplinary resolution rather than other options available as previously mentioned.

Also, another measure the school could have taken was to disallow any gang-related clothing to be worn, as many schools do, and in this case would be the large trench coats where the weapons were concealed, Although in this case the clothing was unique in that the clothing aided in the assault rather than marking gang affiliation, it still could have deterred the act. Overall the school could have been more involved with the students and parents, because if the school was not able to help and address the antisocial behavior, it is possible the parents could have. The case of the two shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Keblod can be explained by George Mead‘s Labeling theory, as these boys were labeled and forced to join a group of other outcast. With the pressures of being bullied and the boys’ antisocial behaviors, it can be seen that the boys were troubled and needed to be helped, but unfortunately the correct actions were not carried out. Overall this case shows the importance in providing services necessary to identify and help troubled youths, in order to prevent delinquent behavior from occurring.

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How the Labeling Theory Can Explain the Behavior of the Shooters in the 1999 Columbine School Shooting. (2023, May 10). Retrieved from