After another shooting at a school that took the lives of two teachers and eight students, we are once again searching for simple solutions to a complicated problem while we grieve the lives lost. The problem of gun violence in this country is not going to be fixed with simple or easy solutions because all of these different mass shootings and those shooting not classified under “mass shootings” have different underlying issues that need to be addressed. However, there is a simple thing that we can all do that could help: Stop making mass murderers famous.
The main reason that we see pictures and mugshots of people committing crime in the news is to deter that behavior and shame those people. If you saw a mugshot in the newspaper after that person was arrested for robbery, you would be less likely to commit a robbery because having your face being spread around as a robber would ruin your reputation, even if you weren’t convicted. Additionally, seeing the face of Jared Fogle or Brock Turner on our newsfeed will help us to remember the evil things they did when they are released from prison. This logic does not apply to mass murderers.
Mass murderers do that crime specifically because they want the attention. In some part of their delusion, they want their face to be plastered everywhere so people can know what they did and why. By us sharing the name and face of these killers, we create opportunity for a person who committed an evil act to be idolized by people who are susceptible to indoctrination.
We do not have to look back too far to see this phenomenon at work. In 1993, the FBI and ATF went up against a religious cult in Waco, Texas. They allowed the leader there to publish his manifesto and release videos for the whole world to see, which only made his celebrity even stronger. When the ranch was eventually burned to the ground, one vulnerable spectator was particularly outraged at the government’s overreach, buying into the Waco leader’s ideology that the feds were out to get him. On April 19, 1995, that spectator detonated a bomb in the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing over 150 people. His name and face were publicized everywhere up to and including his execution by lethal injection.
The widespread distribution of the OKC bombing inspired a couple of mentally disturbed high school students to try to get a higher body count in their own act of violence. Their plan was to set off bombs in their school cafeteria and then shoot the students and teachers as they fled the school. Fortunately, the bombs did not explode. Unfortunately, those two students decided to go into Columbine High School anyway and shoot their classmates and teachers, killing 13 people and themselves in the process.
The Columbine Massacre is the event that many sources will refer to when talking about subsequent shootings because it took the narrative of gun violence out of the back alleys of urban cities into the everyday lives of children in the United States. However, it also made celebrities out of the two Columbine shooters. I did a project in high school on the massacre, looking at the potential causes for the event, and I found countless articles about the two shooters without much effort. For those with mental health problems who are looking for something to grab on to, the amount of information out there about the Columbine shooters could give them the opportunity to latch on there. With all of the easy access to information we have today, mentally disturbed people can find false idols and martyrs in the form of mass murderers and serial killers and be inspired to replicate or emulate their actions.
So, here is my two step proposal: 1. Don’t share the face or use the name of a mass murderer 2. Demand that your news sources don’t use the face or name of mass murderers.
Even though I know the name of a lot of those who have done these mass shootings, I will no longer be using their names in conversations or posting their names on social media and I encourage everyone to do the same. We want to reduce the celebrity of these people and the evil acts they have committed and eliminating the name from conversation will turn the focus away from the perpetrator onto the victims of the event. I would also encourage politely engaging your friends and followers to consider changing the way they share these stories.
We can put pressure on the news we consume to make changes by our words and our actions. If you don’t have a strong connection to a certain news source, you can unsubscribe. If you have a stronger connection to a particular source, then you can reach out to them to express your concerns. There are some sources now that I consume who do not give the name or show the picture of the perpetrators of these crimes, so it is not an impossible request to fulfill.
After we hear about another shooting that killed numerous people, it is easy for us to feel helpless. Stepping up to stop the spread of idolizing the perpetrators and creating celebrities out of heinous crimes is something we can all do to combat this media trend. I want to live in a world where we forget the shooter’s name and remember the names of the victims and the heroes that saved lives instead.
Do you agree? If you have any ideas for a topic you want to discuss or have any questions you want me to answer, you can reach out to me on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want these posts to come directly to your email, enter your email into the box at the bottom of the page and click “Follow”. I would appreciate it if you leave a comment to let me know what you think. Also, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @evinkellis for all of the thought provoking content I post on there. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back here soon.