When I came across the U.S. map on the back of the Saturday News Tribune I assumed the dark and light shading of the states represented recent presidential polling. No so. It depicted the scenes of domestic mass killings from the Columbine killings in 1999 to the present day – in all 230 were gunned down in 22 separate incidents.
Though each shocking incident represented a significant loss of life, the total number was not enough to skew our nation’s homicide statistics. Public awareness of these traumatic events, on the other hand, has led to a disproportionate amount of fear. News agencies are partly to blame.
With each mass shooting comes the inevitable media spotlight on the killer. The public is spared no detail on these twisted lives, including the final gory climax of their homicidal fantasy.
It should be no surprise that public anxiety spikes after each new massacre. Whether it is the high body count, the random death by gunfire or the realization that such twisted sociopaths do live among us, the result is the insidious notion that death could await anyone in public places we normally would (and should) feel secure: schools, shopping malls, movie theaters.
There has been much discussion on ways to prevent future incidents, the most controversial being the ongoing debate on gun control. Advocates of more restrictive gun laws criticize a legal system that allowed the Aurora shooter to purchase an arsenal of firearms. Gun rights proponents counter that a better armed citizenry may have brought a quicker end to many of these shootings.
The U.S. has struggled to find balance, but in a country that produces so many firearms (5.4 million in 2009, according to accurateshooter.com) legal limitations will only go so far. Until this larger issue finds a safe resolution, I can only think of one idea that has a hope of lessening the chance of repetition.
We have to stop turning killers into celebrities.
I first brought this issue up a year ago when a Norwegian lunatic killed 77 people, mostly children. For that column I cited the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting as an example. The VT gunman had taken numerous “glamour shots” of himself in anticipation of his upcoming fame. These images, which portrayed a deeply disturbed individual, were pounced on by news outlets and quickly found their way onto televised news and the Internet. That pattern continued following the Norway killings.
Fast forward to the most recent massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and even the least cynical person might wonder if the guarantee of instantaneous fame (or infamy) motivated the killer as he donned tactical gear, dyed his hair and used the opening of a blockbuster movie to carry out an orgy of carnage. The answer is self evident.
What if the media took a different tack? Instead of rushing to uncover his dirty secrets, interviewing his neighbors, finding out what type of underwear he prefers, journalists might take the more courageous stand and turn their back on the perp; no pictures, no biography, no front page stories dissecting his thoughts as if he were somehow important. Nothing.
That type of action would matter because the stereotypical mass killer (if there is such an animal) is a man disenfranchised from society. His hunger for celebrity drives much of his actions, and to deprive him of this is to rob him of his impetus for violent action. The potential for saving lives should be a compelling enough reason to throw a blanket over the media inferno.
Sure, failing to provide this news angle will cause a revenue loss. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that. Instead, if you want to learn more about the victims whose lives ended in a Colorado movie theater - Jessica Ghawi, 24; Veronica Moser, 6; Matt McQuinn, 27; Alex Sullivan, 27; Micayla Medek, 23; John Larimer, 27; Jesse Childress, 29; Gordon W Cowden, 51; Jonathan T. Blunk, 26; Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32; Alexander C. Teves, 24; Alexander J. Boik, 18 – their stories can be found at this link.
May they rest in peace. May their killer be quickly forgotten.