Preventing Mass Shootings

Published:  05/30/2022

Another school was attacked by a teenager with a rifle this week. Elementary students gunned down in a place that should always feel and be safe. It is a national disgrace. Students, parents, and educators should not need to worry about this sort of tragedy. Why does this seem to affect the US more than any other country? Obviously, guns are part of the answer, but the USA is not the only country with many guns. There is one thing that could work to reduce the number of mass shootings in this country. It would also be acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans. The media needs to stop publicizing the name, image, and manifestos of the perpetrators of these mass shootings.

After reading a book by Malcom Gladwell, (Tipping Point) in the early 2000s, I had an idea that maybe new mass shootings in the US were being inspired by the media attention devoted to recent coverage of mass shootings in the US. In Gladwell's book, the author describes how a suicide in Micronesia went viral and caused many copycat suicides. This is a well-known phenomenon. Journalists have known for decades that suicide can inspire other suicides. When a prominent person commits suicide, there are often copycat suicides. When Marilyn Monroe killed herself, the national suicide rate jumped. That is why the details of suicides are usually omitted from reports.

Mass shootings like the one that happened this week likely spawn copycats. Many of these mass shooters have referenced other mass shooting in their writings. They want to outdo past mass shooters. They know that they will become famous (infamous) after committing the atrocity, because the shooters before them achieved fame in the same way. Psychologists have spoken out about this. It is time that public officials speak about this viral spread of mass shootings from a perspective of what motivates these shooters. It isn’t just mental illness or suicidal rage; it is a desire to lash out in a way that will make them famous. We should deny these shooters the notoriety they seek. The media should stop implying that gun control is the only means to stop these acts while ignoring the role their coverage plays in inspiring future mass shootings. Gun control measures have merit, but the shooters that go into schools and other public places and kill with no obvious motive are (partially) looking for notoriety. Every time a reporter or platform shows the image of these killers, gives their name, or discusses their manifesto, they are inspiring the next shooter. We should all speak out about this. It needs to be part of the discussion of prevention.

Think about past mass shootings. It is likely that you can recall the name of at least some of the shooters, but none of the victims. The media doesn't need to show the shooter's image or give his/her name. They can describe the shooter. They can discuss the crime itself. They do not need to provide the name, the person's image, and/or give airtime to whatever manifesto they may have left behind. It is surprising to me that more isn't said about this in the media today. To NPR's credit, they have discussed this issue on air multiple times. Too few of the other media outlets seem to mention it. The public is largely ignorant of the idea that these shootings spread partly due to the way the media covers them. Both sides of the political isle should be able to come to a consensus on this issue. They both like to bash the media. Here is one area where the media deserves some critique. I doubt this post will reach many people, but it is my small effort. I wrote every news organization I could find about this issue this week, but I am just one voice. Spread the idea, so we can stop the spread of these mass shootings.