The Media’s Role After Mass Shootings

On March 22, 2021, a mass shooting took the lives of ten individuals. Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, Rikki Olds, Tralona Bartkowiak, police officer Eric Talley, Suzanne Fountain, Teri Leiker, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray, and Jodi Waters. The shooting took place less than twenty minutes away from my uncle and his wife. After making urgent phone calls to them and finding out they were alright, I remembered that although COVID-19 may have tempered the cascade of mass shootings in the United States, there has been no shortage of gun violence and murder at the hands of volatile individuals.

My immediate reaction, like many, was an anger towards the unchecked gun laws and the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a whole. I remember that back in my seventh grade year, it seemed as if we had a shooting every week. Many saw this as a callback to pre-COVID-19 gunfire, and were outraged.

Oftentimes when we hear about a school shooting, we yearn to learn more about how other countries make change in response to them. According to the Washington Post, New Zealand buffed up their gun laws within 24 hours after a gunman killed fifty innocent worshipers of the Islamic faith, Canada put bans on nearly 1500 assault rifle models, and British police spent years tracking down illegal gun ownership.

I have spent time contemplating why the United States doesn’t just get serious about gun control, and why we can’t just be like Switzerland, a country that is rigorous about background checks, despite its high gun ownership. I could talk about the murderer, the motive, mental health in this country, gun regulation laws, and much more, but that wouldn’t serve any purpose. Denver, Colorado has gun regulation laws that prohibit felons, mentally institutionalized individuals, fugitives, dishonorably discharged soldiers, citizens with substance abuse, convicted domestic abusers, and people under a domestic violence protective order from owning firearms. Much of the problem lies in the enforcement of these rules, and the FBI’s permissive nature concerning red-flagged individuals, but that is not what I am here for.

From my lens, psychopaths who can’t deal with their problems and have nothing to lose want attention. There’s a reason that many of these mass shootings take place in supermarkets, festivals, and schools. Much of the media focuses on the shooter’s identity and background, and not the victims’. Videos of the Parkland shooter circulated around the web, garnering millions of views. PBS dedicated an episode of Frontline to the Sandy Hooks shooter. Perpetrators of the Columbine shooting became famous instantaneously, even though they were dead.

James N. Meindl, PhD, and Jonathan W. Ivy, PhD, asserted in the American Journal of Public Health that “Media attention is perceived as rewarding the actions of the shooter through notoriety, thereby also increasing the social status of the shooter.”

This plays into a greater problem in our media consumption. What scares, sells. Instead of taking time to grieve for the victims of an attack, media companies often opt to create documentaries, front page news articles, TV shows, and more about the perpetrators of these attacks. This is, in fact, dangerous, and only prompts others to attempt a claim to fame by ruining the lives of countless families.

Next time a mass shooting occurs, don’t look up “who was responsible.” Don’t share some meaningless Instagram post saying something along the lines of “one like equals one punch to the shooter.” Instead, learn about how to volunteer against gun violence, research the victims of the attack, and do something more than play into our media’s problems. 

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