In the wake of the Oregon shootings, I already had a sense of what was going to happen.
President Obama standing in front of the cameras decrying the lack of gun control? Check.
The pro-gun supporters countering with tired phrases like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or crying “Second amendment!” Check.
My disgust with both sides attempting to politicize a mass murder situation for their own ideological agendas? Check. I understand the desire to harness the energy immediately after a mass murder, but the humanitarian in me says that should be a time of healing, not a race to push an agenda.
The next mass murderer has watched the coverage of the Oregon shooter, and is preparing his attack. When and where will it happen? Anyone’s guess.
The discourse after a mass shooting has become so predictable that I can almost debate both sides by myself. It has become so boring, so unproductive. Both sides are entrenched; the media sells a lot of stories by stroking the anti-gun rhetoric, and at the end of the day? Nothing is achieved. There has been almost no progress. The stage is set for the next mass murderer.
I saw a sliver of hope when articles began to surface questioning the ethics of publishing the shooter’s name. Sheriff John Hanlin refused to name the shooter. CNN was heavily criticized for saying the shooter’s name on air before deciding to stop showing pictures and naming the shooter.
This is a potential change to the pattern, a shift in the discussions, and it gives me hope. According to the statistics, deaths from mass shootings comprise a small fraction of the total gun deaths. It is important to account for other causes of gun violence such as organized crime; for example, in Los Angeles in the year 2014, 62% of the city’s total killings were caused by organized crime.
It is my opinion that we need to completely change how we talk about mass murderers, and it has absolutely nothing to do with guns. It has to do with how we cover these events, and our culture.
The first issue is the media’s coverage of these sorts of events. Almost every mass murderer that I researched had files on the Columbine shootings. The media dissected the two shooter’s lives. Their manifestos were read by the world, their writings and activities were documented and published. Debates raged over whether video games or their music choices were responsible. The coverage of how they went about their attack on their high school was so complete that terrorist organizations have copied and improved upon their tactics.
For a narcissistic sociopath, this amount of attention is a dream come true. The Charleston shooter wanted to bring attention to race relations in the country. He was successful. The Oregon and Virginia Tech shooters wanted to make anti-religion statements. Successful.
Promise of intense media coverage and voice amplification of one’s manifesto? Those are powerful motivators. The gun or guns used are tertiary to it all, these individuals would have found a way to cause a mass casualty event with whatever means were available to them. The Boston bombers managed to create panic with a couple of pressure cookers. Any chemist can tell you that explosives or poison gas can be made with homemade materials and instructions found online.
The media isn’t exactly totally responsible, either. We all are. Our obsession with anti-heroes is well documented. The Joker character in the Batman series fascinates us. “Dexter” was a show about a serial killer that the writers cleverly humanized enough that we rooted for him, despite the fact he was killing in cold blood. We cheered Walter White from “Breaking Bad.”
We have an appetite for anti-heroes and content creators are supplying that market. When it happens in real life instead of on the small or big screen, the media knows they can cash in.
The third and final factor is how we care for those who have mental disorders. Institutionalization died after WWII due to the horrific conditions in those facilities, and how the inmates were dehumanized. The end result is that a lot of those who need care are not receiving it.
This led to a disturbing side effect: We as a country are afraid of those who have mental illness, because we don’t know who is violent or not. In my opinion, that has led to the stigmatization of those who have mental illness, which has then led to those who feel they might need help to reject care in order to not be stereotyped.
Would the Oregon or Sandy Hook shootings have not happened if we had better mental health care? Maybe, maybe not. Would either perpetrator have opted to seek out help instead of resorting to violence? That is a tough question, too.
I do feel that if we as a nation were flooded with these types of questions and discussions after a mass shooting, rather than the usual tired slate of grandstanding, this would be a lot more productive. At least we would be hitting closer to the heart of the issues.
If gun control is your passion, then in my opinion your focus should be on the availability of legal and illegal weapons in poor communities wherein disaffected youth are more susceptible to being coerced into committing organized crime, and less on mass shootings, which comprise less than one percent of all murders in America. Dig beneath the surface.
If your focus is on mass shootings, then I think it is time to change the rhetoric and the nature of the discussions to something more productive. The media coverage of the events needs to change. The anti-hero worship mentality needs a reality check. And we need to better care for those who have mental disabilities without stigmatizing receiving care. Whether gun purchases should be more regulated is a minor point.
Stascavage is a member of the Class of 2018.