School Shooters: Should policy impact media mention of gunman names?

While covering the massacre, several media outlets elected not to mention the name of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter. Victims in Newtown, Connecticut were the focus of most of the stories in ongoing coverage of the event. Should or can the media be prevented, as a matter of law or policy, from highlighting the names of school shooters? Many are talking about this issue.

While 6 large corporation control 90% of the media[i], the FCC’s control is significant.[ii] The Federal Communications Commission regulates wire communication and media. With powers to fine and revoke broadcast station licenses the FCC can impact allowed media. Using a public interest standard in policy-making, public FCC hearings can address policy regarding the naming of a school shooter and the frequency thereof. What do you think about this type of policy?

Read the FCC report: The Information Needs of Communities to gain greater insight into the commission and its objectives.

Why do we focus on the shooter?

Correspondents reporting on other school shootings focused on the gunman. Investigations and speculation, from people who knew or were acquainted with a gunman, shifted the news focus to the gunman instead of the victims and professionals working to protect the public and the children.

Can we really profile and prevent the next school shooter? If there is no coverage or spotlight on the  gunman or family, will the motivation be decreased? In personal injury practice, “secondary gain” (a psychological motivator), an external motivator, can influence a medical patient’s experience and reporting of symptoms. Secondary gain in school shootings could describe a psychological condition of seeking attention and recognition in community, in the news, and in history.

When the Sandy Hook shooting story started unfolding many viewers likely asked themselves the standard questions about the gunman, as if slowing down to peer at a bad car wreck.

When asked their opinion about whether there should be a policy regarding mentioning the names of shooters, most of the anonymous responses favored such a policy:

  • I think it should be a crime to mention their name and show pictures. Leads to copy cats.
  • Yes, so it does not give the shooter fame. People do these awful things for many reasons and fame should not be one of them.
  • Yes, he doesn’t need any publicity.
  • We should remember the names of the victims, not the shooter.

Should the investigative agencies dig deep into a gunman’s background and continue to work on a system for spotting potential shooters? It makes sense to attempt to prevent other crimes to the extent it is possible. Those investigations do not require major news coverage to proceed.

The only way to make schools 100% safe is to eliminate them. Since we all want safe schools we should work together and engage in dialogue to continue trouble-shooting and preventing security breaches. Many schools are much safer today than in years past, in response to tragedies, unfortunately.

What do you think about policies or laws regarding the mention of a shooter’s name? Should there simply be limits of time and focus on the shooter? What about all the images of shooters and their use in media?


[i] Business Insider: “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of Media In America

[ii] Federal Communications Commission

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