In the wake of yesterday’s mass murder at Sandy Hook elementary school, calls for government to “do something” are everywhere. President Obama says we must take “meaningful action” on gun violence. OK, but what action is that? He didn’t say.
A logical starting point is to ask why mass murderers like Adam Lanza do it. Most of them don’t intend to survive; their murders are a form of suicide culminating in their own deaths. The impulse to suicide is understandable, but what is the point of murdering ten or twenty school children or mall shoppers first?
I think the answer, for most such murderers anyway, is that they want to go out in a blaze of notoriety. Typically people who have made little impression on the world in life, they want to become famous in death. Shooting themselves won’t achieve that goal, but shooting lots of others will. I think they inspire one another: the Aurora movie theater killer probably helped to motivate the Oregon mall murderer, and the Oregon mall murderer probably helped to motivate the Sandy Hook killer.
If this is true–and I think it represents common sense–then one practical response to the school/theater/mall murderers presents itself: we could ban all news coverage of mass shooting incidents. If newspapers, magazines, web sites and above all television and radio stations were prohibited from making any reference to mass shooting crimes, then the goal that these criminals seek–fame; in effect, immortality–would not be achieved. It is reasonable to expect that mass shootings would decline as a result. In a less restrictive version of the same approach, we could allow news outlets to cover such crimes, but prohibit them from mentioning the name of the killer or displaying his image. This, too, might reduce the number of mass murders.
The only flaw in my proposal is that it would be unconstitutional. News organizations would sue to enjoin any such legislation, and would win. But if we are going to take mass shootings, however rare they may be in the broader picture, as an occasion to infringe constitutional rights, the most effective place to start would be the First Amendment.
We pay a price for all of our freedoms. I wonder how many of our reporters and editors have paused to reflect, over the last 24 hours, on how their own news organizations may have contributed to yesterday’s killings in Connecticut.
Within the realm of constitutional options, the most practical remedy I can think of would be to require that a certain number of teachers or administrators in each school be trained in the use of firearms and armed at all times. That would probably deter most school shooters. It is curious, but true, that even those killers who do not intend to survive their crimes never seem to open fire in the presence of another armed person. No one tries to shoot up a biker bar.
STEVE adds, without comment, as none is necessary:
Actually I will add one comment: I suspect David Frum approves of this policy for Israel.