2-76. No Names, No Words


I’ve made a concerted effort not to bring up political views in anything the College of Curiosity does. Of course, my own political views will seep in from time to time, but my goal in producing this content is not to sway opinions, but to create more questions.

Today, I have the same question on my mind that is on everyone’s minds: what can we do to stop these mass shootings? Many people propose “obvious” answers. We should take away the guns or we should give people more guns. We should fund mental healthcare (that one is pretty easy to agree with) or we should at least make our schools more secure… somehow.

Everyone agrees we should do something. And that’s where the agreement ends. I would like to amplify one simple idea of something that we can do that might make things better.

As I made breakfast, I had CNN on. It was what you’d expect: helicopter shots of stretchers, crying classmates and family, and people demanding that something be done immediately. Then the Sheriff who is responsible for law enforcement in the area was on, briefly, and he did one thing that I found intriguing: he refused to mention the shooter’s name.

I looked online to find more on the story, and found an article from news10.com, an Albany, NY ABC affiliate. The headline was “Oregon Sherif refusing to report mass school shooters name (sic).” You could probably write the article yourself, and it only made a mention of the sheriff who said “he will not get the attention he likely sought.”

Except that the News 10 article mentions the shooter’s name, but not the name of the sheriff.

The sheriff’s name is John Hanlin. And he realizes as many of us do that a big part of the problem of mass shootings is the motivation of the shooter. In many cases, that motivation is media attention. CNN posted a social media message from the shooter that said words to the effect of “the more people you kill, the more limelight you get.” And that is something we can address.

I’m a strong proponent of freedom of the press, and I am not in favor of any new government-imposed restrictions on the media. But if the media chose to simply not report these incidents in anything more than a matter-of-fact way, I think there would be fewer to report.

Imagine if today’s shooting was reported like this: “A shooter opened fire in a school today in Oregon. Nine people were killed, plus the shooter. Ten more are in the hospital. The scene is now secure. And now the weather…” If a news outlet were brave enough to do that, they’d have earned a great deal of respect from me.

That might seem a bit extreme, but you get the idea: the media is treating these shooters like celebrities. You likely know many of their names, and yet I’ll wager that you can’t remember a single name amongst the victims. You are part of the reason these shootings happen.

Let’s make these stories page 4 news, including any trials that result. Remove the motivation of fame. And yes, it’s fame, not necessarily infamy. Potential shooters look up to these people, see the attention they get, and imagine themselves in the spotlight. Let’s turn it off.

If you’re watching the news and a report about a mass shooting comes on, turn it off. Change the channel. Ignore it. Flip the page. Do not share it. Do not comment on it. Do not remember the name of the shooter. Forget the shooter. We can do these things and still honor the memories of the victims and the trauma that the community is facing.

And yes, I seem to be denying curiosity. I, of all people, should be asking you to be more curious about the shooting. But in this case, your curiosity is being used against you. It’s the man in the van telling your six year old self that he has a hurt puppy he needs your help with. It’s the unusual balloon that dropped from the Oregon skies on May 5, 1945. Leave it alone, and back away slowly. Be more curious about why these things happen, and less curious about the specifics of any individual. They are not important.

These events are not just tragedies: each is an act of someone’s motivated will. Let’s see if we can do a bit to remove that motivation, while we argue and struggle over how legislation might help.

This is the last time I’ll be writing on or discussing mass shootings. My thoughts today, are with the victims, and the people who haven’t become victims yet.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Nothing to see here. Move along.


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