Last night I wrote that the most effective measure to reduce the number of mass shootings would be to stop publicizing the names and purported grievances of perpetrators. The principal motivation of these deranged criminals is to become famous–as they see it, to go down in history. The Umpqua Community College murderer confirmed this once again when he wrote, prior to his rampage, “The more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
Kudos, therefore, to Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin for refusing to feed mass murderers’ yearning for publicity:
“Let me be very clear: I will not name the shooter.” Sheriff John Hanlin said during a Thursday night briefing at a fire station near the Roseburg campus. “I will not give him credit for this horrific act of cowardice.”
He encouraged the news media and community to “avoid using it, repeating it, or engaging in any glorification and sensationalization of him.”
The press could make a material contribution toward reducing the number of mass murders if they listened to Sheriff Hanlin’s plea, but hardly any reporters and editors are doing so. Hugh Hewitt is one of the few commentators who has long had a policy of not naming mass murderers on the radio. Henceforth, I don’t intend to publicize the names or supposed motivations of such criminals. They are a combination of evil and crazy; who cares whether they express admiration for Nazis, Communists or the IRA, or say they are trying to start a race war? No sense can be made of their “manifestoes” or social media musings, and there is no point in giving other unbalanced individuals the idea that if they commit mass murder, their supposedly brilliant ideas will be publicized.
It is time to alter radically the manner in which the press covers these incidents, if it must cover them at all. For example: if there is a bus accident in rural Oregon in which ten people are killed, it may or may not be reported outside the locality where the accident happened. If reported at all, it will be a minor story, with no elaborate speculation about what caused the accident. Why, then, is the murder of ten individuals, such as happened at Umpqua Community College, front-page national news?
The difference is that reporters and editors presume that such incidents are relevant to a policy agenda in a way in which traffic accidents are not. Yet twice as many Americans die in car accidents as are murdered, and around 320 times as many Americans die in motor vehicle accidents as in mass shootings. So why is the one event so much more newsworthy than the other? I think it is only because mass shootings, unlike motor vehicle accidents, are tied to a policy agenda that is supported by nearly all reporters and editors. And yet, by hewing to that agenda, the press is undoubtedly making mass shootings more common.