Glorifying perpetrators promotes culture of violence

Try to name the victims of last week’s shooting at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Try naming the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., massacre that happened in December of last year, or those from the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting of July 2012. Can you name any of the victims from Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Binghamton or Columbine High School?

With more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. in the past seven years, one thing is severely apparent: America has a shooting problem.

When I sat down to write this column, I realized that I couldn’t name any of the victims of any of these atrocities. I searched and searched my brain for any remembrance of a news story which focused on the victims, and no matter how hard I tried, I came up blank.

The sad truth is that, unless one is directly affected by one of these events, the victims tend to usually just fall into a statistic.

One thing that I could do, however, was name, or at least picture the face of the various shooters who committed the heinous acts. I remember seeing their faces on the evening news and their biographies on the front page of newspapers. I remember interviews with close friends or relatives of the shooters on the major news sites.

Of course, the solution to this problem, like all large problems, is not simple.

I don’t believe the solution is to eliminate guns, to make guns more accessible, to expand mental health treatment or to censor out aspects of culture that glorify violence. Like most people, I think that the solution to America’s gun violence problem is probably a combination of some of these factors.

There is no quick fix to this issue. Steps must be taken and implemented gradually and thoughtfully.

One thing that can be done by all of us, and done quickly, however, is dissuading the media, especially mass media and social media, from spreading the names, pictures and biographies of these shooters.

I understand that it is interesting to learn about how someone could commit such a terrible act, and thus printing stories about the shooters are intriguing by default. But the fact that the stories of the victims are less publicized than the stories of the criminals is extremely disturbing.

I believe it is our duty as citizens to eliminate this glorification and infamy from the canon of mass media.

In the particular cases of mass shooters, the negatives of shining a light on the offender far outweigh the positives. I’m not saying that the mass media portrays these offenders in a positive way. They don’t. But even if the media are trying to shame the offender, they are, instead, allowing a killer the privilege of fame for taking the lives of innocent children. Many of these criminals have mailed tapes to news agencies to be played posthumously for the simple reason that they want the attention for what they have done.

Someone who commits an act of rash and menacing violence certainly deserves no attention, no matter how well-intentioned the case may be.

The fact of the matter is this: If we want to dissuade a future mass murderer from committing an act of grand violence, we must shift the focus of the media.

If the stories become more about the tragic atrocities and hardships faced by the victims and their families, perhaps it will inspire some empathy for the future. Perhaps it will cause potential criminals to wonder what it would be like if they were a victim, and thus prevent an event altogether.

I’m not calling for all news to focus on the families of the victims, I’m sure some victims’ families don’t want attention and that should absolutely be respected in the highest regard.

In the same vein, though, I’m sure some of the families feel the same way that Emmit Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, felt when her son was brutally and unjustly lynched in 1955. Ms. Bradley wanted everyone to see the injustice dealt to her son via the press. In turn, the shock from that very story arguably brought about large social change.

Perhaps if we shifted focus more toward the horrors faced by the victims, the examples will haunt a future mass shooter out of committing a horrible act that we have seen far too much of.

But it would seem that the consistent media focus on the perpetrator immediately following a mass shooting event would do more to influence someone who is unstable in the direction of violence than dissuade them. Perhaps they seek attention and see committing a mass crime as a way to gain that attention. Maybe they want their face to be plastered across the headlines of CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

If we continue to give that attention at a national level, we can only expect it to contribute to the problem in a negative way.

Instead, the media should focus on what matters.

I understand that from an individual perspective, it is interesting to focus on the criminal. I would even go as far as to say that it is human nature to give our focus and blame to one, single figure.

We must deny this instinct, though. The perpetrator is not what matters. What matters is the child who will now no longer be able to grow up, the mother who will never get to come home to her family or the naval yard worker who won’t get to see his retirement day.

I’m not saying this is a cure-all for mass violence, but it certainly would be a step in the right direction. It won’t stop all mass shootings, but it may make a significant dent, and as Americans, we need as much help as we can possibly get.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]