Moscow’s School Shooting: Not Just a Repetition of Some Western Scenario

February 6, 2014
Police officers evacuating children from school №263. Photo: RIA Novosti

It turned out that in Russia everything is just like in the West, including shooting in schools. Yesterday an high school student came to school to settle a score with his geography teacher. According to experts, what happened is the result of escalation of everyday aggression against the background of social atomization of society. The shooting was just another incident in a series of attacks on teachers, that have become more frequent lately.

A short story. At noon, a high school student came to his School #263 in the North-East of Moscow with a rifle and a carbine. The guard tried to detain him, but the honor student Sergey Gordeev pointed a rifle at him. School security guards have no right to bear arms, all they can do is to slap or otherwise contain an unruly teenager, so the student followed the guard to the classroom. Then, as Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee told later, “without saying a word the teenager fired several shots at his geography teacher, and then, when the police arrived responding to the alarm, and opened the door, he fired a few more shots.” Two police officers were seriously injured. One died immediately, the other one, in serious condition was taken in a helicopter to the Central Emergency Institute. According to the Investigation Committee, the teenager fired 11 shots. He was detained with the help of his father who persuaded him to surrender.

None of the students were injured. Gordeev, a tenth-grader, in accordance with Art. 88 of the Criminal Code, can get up to six years in prison as a minor.

“This same category of minors who have committed serious crimes, as well as the rest of the juvenile offenders are punishable by a prison term not to exceed ten years and to be served in a juvenile correctional facility,” says the article of the Criminal Code. Gordeeva was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: 206 (hostage taking), 105 (murder), and 317 (attempt on the life of a law enforcement officer). All these are very serious crimes that carry either life imprisonment or death penalty. But Gordeev is under 16. And there is a moratorium on death penalty in Russia. Still is.

The yesterday’s bloody incident was yet another in the chain of attacks on teachers, that have shaken web visitors and TV audience over the recent months (see the reference). For a long time it was believed that Russia would avoid the fate of developed countries, where such shootings in schools happen regularly. A better situation in Russia in this regard was believed to be a consequence of tight controls over handgun circulation. But a miracle did not happen.

According to Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, the level of aggression in the society is constantly on the rise, along with the willingness to resort to violence: “There is a general process – anomie, i.e. decay of social values. What is going on is destruction of social ties that keeps human beings from violence, makes them more dependent on the environment, protects against loneliness and from becoming abnormal personalities. Indeed, the level of willingness to resort to violence is constantly increasing, and at some point the situation explodes, like yesterday.” The expert believes that in this sense the tragedy at school could be compared with the developments in Biryulyovo: “There was, of course, a different reason, but the authorities barely managed to prevent pogroms. Another sign of the current social instability is hunting for migrant workers, killing Tajiks and Uzbeks by underclass, marginalized youth. This is the zone of uncontrollability.”

The modern society provokes a great deal of such socio-psychological pathologies, especially in metropolitan areas, according to Mikhail Remizov, the head of the National Strategy Institute. “An individual is constantly under a very strong, permanent and growing consumer pressure, with dwindling opportunities to meet these needs.” This phenomenon, says the expert, is characteristic of all modern societies, and it leads to frustration of human relations. An explosion could be triggered by anything, emphasizes the expert. It could be conflicts in the family, or at school, or anything at all: “This happens at a sufficiently high level of optimization of the urban environment, where everybody is left to their own devices, to deal with their problems. That is, we have to deal with typical problems of a large mass society with a low level of solidarity and an erosion of moral standards. In this regard very few things are specific for our country. Except for cloning of certain models and behaviors gleaned from popular culture.”

Yesterday’s school shooting again made us talk about the problem of vulnerability of citizens from an armed aggressor. However, the citizens themselves, answering sociologists’ questions, do not consider this a problem. According to Lev Gudkov, 80% of the population are against free access to weapons. Sociologists, says Lev Gudkov, question the soundness of such attitudes and prove that licensing and permits will not lead to more crime. “After all, criminals are always ready for violence. They would have at hand a kitchen knife, an ax – anything you want. Most of the murders result from brawls between people who know each other – either between the members of a family, or between friends or drinking buddies.”

Moreover, yesterday’s incident, as expected, revived the politicians’ struggle to deny citizens the right to armed self-defense. An unarmed security guard at school is nonsense. And he is hard to blame for the fact that he led Gordeev to the geography class under the gun pointed at him. It has to be admitted that the current security arrangements at schools is nothing but fiction, bluffing. But the “Just Russia” faction in the State Duma considers it necessary to tighten arms control laws. “As to carrying of weapons, the laws and rules have to be tightened to the maximum. We should dramatically reduce the use of traumatic pistols and other weapons. There should be deliberate policies to take weapons off our streets,” said the first deputy head of the JR faction Mikhail Emelyanov. According to him, “free sale of weapons corrupts people and endangers human life.”

Meanwhile, in some other countries they don’t agree with that, Marina Butina, the chairperson of the NGO “The Right to Arms”, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. She points out that yesterday’s incident is the result of a reckless approach to storage of weapons. “In this situation the teacher cannot protect himself or children in the classroom, because in today’s Russia they don’t follow the Israeli practices. Over there teachers are required to own a gun. For some reason we believe that this problem will pass us by, but, in practice, this is not happening. In the U.S., for example, more and more schools give up the idea of remaining weapon free zones. In Utah, for example, special instructors train teachers and students at shooting ranges.”


An opinion of a psychologist

Irina Aglicheva, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist, assistant manager of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, an expert-consultant on family and childhood matters:

Today it is stipulated in the basic documents of any school, that the teacher provides “educational services” to students. At the first glance it might seem that introduction of such wording should not lead to major changes in school. However what is going on in reality is a deep restructuring of the educational process. Teachers I had a chance to meet and talk to, noted that students communicate with teachers more and more frivolously with every year. A student regards a teacher as someone who is here to serve him. And behaves accordingly. Another problem is that the student’s load is unevenly distributed. We will not discuss whether students are overloaded or not, there are different points of view on this. Let’s just stop at the fact that a student, especially in high school, is forced to concentrate for too long on just one kind of educational activity, being coached to pass the standardized state exam. Doing routine work and being unable to sublimate aggression accumulated during dull and unpleasant work into any other activities, plus hormonal changes in the body – because all of this a student is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And since he is constantly in this situation, an outburst of aggression is inevitable. Adults can control aggression, but teenagers cannot.

Students’ attacks on teachers and classmates in 2010


  • For three months every Saturday instead of physical education class the ninth-graders of school №1 in Sheleknov (Irkutsk region) were beating a 73-year-old physical education teacher. The students filmed the atrocities and uploaded them to the Internet. The teacher suffers from deep sclerosis and does not remember what she did the day before.
  • In May 2012, in the city of Asbest, eighth grade students of school №30 put online a video of beating their classmate.
  • November 2012. In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, near the primary school №7, three fourth grade students beat up their classmate. After multiple punches in the abdomen the boy could not stand up.
  • March 2012. In Nizhny Novgorod in the school №183 a fifth-grader repeatedly hit his teacher on the head. As a result the teacher, who has 27 years experience, suffered a concussion. The student attacked the teacher after she pointed out that he was once again not prepared for the class. The teacher threatened to summon his parents to school, and the boy hit her in the temple with a cell phone. The classmates of the bully said that the boy felt he could act with impunity because his grandfather was the headmaster of the school.
  • In February 2012, in Tomsk, an eleventh grade student of the secondary school №41 beat his female teacher in the school cafeteria.
  • April 2013. In Voronezh, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was reported missing. Her body was found four days later on a riverbank. A 15-year old local resident who was the girl’s classmate was detained on suspicion of murder.
  • In September 2013 in Kalininets village in Naro-Fominsk district, 22-year-old Alexandra Gorokhova was beaten by a group of eight schoolgirls aged 14 to 17.
  • In December 2013 in a Moscow school a student fell during a fight and hit his head against a metal chair leg.


Compiled by Darya Garmonenko