Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Civil rights vs. showboat killers

Jerry Stratton, March 14, 2018

Mass media ad for killers

“The above paragraph is not the formal policy of… much of the mainstream media, but it amounts to the de facto policy.”—Dave Kopel

Most of the gun laws continually recycled after a mass shooting require the insane belief that criminals would suddenly start obeying this law, even though they’re willing to commit mass murder. They make no sense. If anything, such laws would increase the numbers of mass murders by creating more areas where only criminals are allowed to carry firearms. Such laws would tear at the self-defense rights of the law-abiding, and do nothing to protect them.

Even the people who propose these gun bans eventually admit, if you press them, that their proposals wouldn’t have stopped the mass murder they’re using as justification.

But what if there were a civil right we could infringe on that would stop such mass murderers? What if there were a law we could force the law-abiding to follow that would mean no more Parklands?

It does exist. Psychologists and commentators across the political spectrum recognize that these particular kinds of mass murders are done because the killer wants recognition. They know they’re going to get media attention, and lots of it, if they (a) use a gun, and (b) kill lots of people.

That’s why the vast majority of these killings take place in places where only criminals are allowed to carry firearms, even though such places are a tiny minority of places where people gather in the United States. Because the killers don’t want to be stopped before they kill enough people to make the news, and they know that if they’re stopped because one of their potential victims has a self-defense weapon, they either won’t make the news or their fame will be brief.

Columbine was meant to be spectacular, and it has beckoned mass shooters ever since as an example, a template, and a challenge. They study it, and they try to top it in terms of either body count or showmanship. From suicidal ideation grows the delusion of grandeur; from the desire to kill yourself grows the desire to kill as many people as possible, with immortality on the line.

In many cases, the killers are explicitly trying to beat the body counts of previously-sensationalized killings. They know what sells.

The latest killer, in Parkland, literally looked at previous killings, saw the attention they received, and said “I can do better.” He knew exactly how the media worked, and he planned his murders to play to what the media wants1. Nor was he alone among mass killers in doing so.

Narcissism has been demonstrated in the motivations and statements made by certain mass shooters since the 1990s. In 2007, a man who shot nine people in an Omaha, Nebraska, mall before killing himself left a suicide note that stated, “Just think tho [sic] I’m gonna be famous” (Kluger 2007; Nichols 2007). A similar message was communicated by the Columbine offenders, who stated on a preshooting video, “Isn’t it fun to get the respect we’re going to deserve?”

The Orlando killer and the Virginia Tech killer literally paused their killing to check their media coverage (Orlando) or send out a press release (Virginia).

These killers are fully aware of the attention they’re going to get and how to increase it.

The Oregon shooter, for example, had written of another: “A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone.#…#Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

If there were a law that:

  1. forbade news organizations from mentioning the killer’s name2 and from ever showing photographs of the killer;3
  2. forbade comparing the murder with other murders and televising body counts;4
  3. forbade mentioning the specific weapon or how it was constructed;
  4. forbade televising or printing any final messages or video diaries for at least a year;
  5. limited the length of other coverage to perhaps one column inch or two minutes per day, with nothing ever on the front page of newspapers or web sites;
  6. and forbade search engines from linking to pages that violate these rules,

these showboat killings would quickly dry up.

By not using pictures of mass killers or their names, the media could deprive future would-be killers from seeking the same fame, cut down on the copycat or contagion effect, and reduce "competition" among killers to maximize the death toll, proponents say. In doing so, that could reduce mass killings. (WBUR)

I am not saying that this law would be the right thing to do. I do not believe it would be. Part of the reason I waited on posting this is in the hope that the do anything, even if it makes things worse frenzy has died down. I don’t want anyone thinking in the heat of a crime that infringing on civil rights in this way is a good idea.

My preference is to fight terror with freedom—get rid of areas where only criminals are allowed to carry firearms and allow everyone else, including teachers, to defend themselves.5 If these kinds of killers know they’ll be stopped before they become a mass murderer, after all, they won’t try to commit that kind of crime in the first place. But there is no question that infringing on first amendment freedoms in such as way as to take away a potential showboat killer’s chance at fame would stop these crimes, whereas infringing on second amendment freedoms would not. The latter requires the oxymoron that criminals follow the law; the former requires only that the news media follow the law. It wouldn’t even require competent or honest law enforcement, which appears to be a necessity for any effective solution.

If the goal behind taking people’s rights away were to stop these killings, gun controllers wouldn’t be gun controllers. They’d be media controllers. That they aren’t tells us that they care less about stopping the criminals doing the killing than they do about disarming the people doing the dying.

Some have suggested that we should have a national conversation in which the media will voluntarily strip themselves of their rights, and no law is necessary; I doubt that will ever work. But the difference between these two approaches is critical. One makes life safer for killers by disarming their victims. The other makes a specific kind of killer no longer want to kill.

As technology progresses, and the ease of wielding deadly power increases with it, it is critical that we find ways to ensure that those who would have killed no longer want to, because it is technologically impossible to keep them from acquiring not just guns, which have been easy for criminals to mass produce for decades, but from even more deadly weapons, which will be just as easy to make, and even mass produce, tomorrow, or next year, or next decade.

So while I am against muzzling freedom of speech, this national conversation, should it happen, is a step in the right direction because it directly addresses motivations. That is rapidly becoming the only way we can stop these murders, and worse, from happening.

In response to The Vicious Cycle of Mass Murders: We now know what went wrong. Let’s ignore the ghouls on Facebook and fix it.

  1. Why did the Sutherland Springs killer, for example, try to acquire a Texas license to carry? LTCs in Texas don’t have anything to do with rifles. Odds are he was trying to play the press. He knew that if he had an LTC, even if he didn’t use it, his media coverage would have exponentially increased. They would never have stopped talking about him.

  2. Some only go so far as to say, never mention the name more than once, and never use it in a headline.

  3. If a photo is shown, it must be a boring photo, and never a photo from surveillance tapes or from any point after the killer started their spree.

  4. The suggestions by some experts are to limit the body count to general counts, but nothing that could be used as a challenge by future mass murderers.

  5. I still can’t get the coach out of my mind who gave his life shielding students from the attack. He was a gun owner, but he was forbidden from defending himself. Like Suzanna Gratia Hupp before Texas liberalized their carry laws, he was required to forego the ability to defend himself, which resulted in more people dying. Anyone with that kind of bravery and selflessness is someone I, personally, trust to defend themselves and their charges on school grounds.

  1. <- Broward blind
  2. Showboat media ->