Every generation has its risks. A century ago it was a new level of the inhumanity of humans, as thousands suffered and died from gas attacks during the War to End All Wars. A new threat surfaced several decades later with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
That era was eclipsed when President Truman made the decision to drop atom bombs on two Japanese cities, ending World War II in the Pacific, but also unleashing a new horror.
Then came the Cold War with the Soviets, which provoked classroom drills in which American school kids were taught to take cover under their desks, which would have been of no use in a barrage of Soviet nuclear missiles.
The current generation of Americans faces many risks, but none more terrifying than random-shooter attacks. The latest involves an apparently disgruntled — and obviously deranged — city employee in Virginia Beach, killing 12 with a silenced semi-auto pistol.
There have been 149 mass shootings, 161 people killed, 585 wounded, two major school shootings this year as of earlier this week.
How does one prepare for these random attacks? There is no simple answer. Random implies pure luck, and that’s what seems to save a lot of people in mass-shooting events.
The media has begun to step back from glorifying shooters by focusing on the victims instead, and giving the shooter a backseat. We hope that continues. Even pointing out how vile and senseless a mass shooting is emphasizes the shooter’s ability to attain a level of personal domination and fame.
Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera’s response to last Friday’s massacre at a city government office offers a clue. After finally identifying the killer, who himself had been shot dead, the chief told the media that was the one and only time he would refer to the shooter by name. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a similar approach after a lone gunmen opened fire at two mosques. She refused to speak the shooter’s name, because such atrocities do not deserve fame.
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Media attention on shooters elevates their status along the fringes, inspiring copycat attacks. Arizona State University research in 2015 showed that each mass shooting increased the chances of another such shooting within the following 13 days.
Is there anyone reading this who does not know all about Charles Manson or Ted Bundy, mass killers who have had major films made about their crimes?
The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School opened a door that remains open today, because the media attention on Columbine’s two young killers revealed just how soft a target schools can be.
Here’s what should happen: When a mass shooting occurs, which is a given, the media should briefly report the killer’s name, age and occupation. Digging up details of the shooter’s life and family struggles serves no useful purpose to anyone but psychiatrists and criminalists. Anything beyond the basic bio runs the risk of creating another idol for the demented, because the killer’s unfortunate family history makes him or her a soulmate to other abused humans.
The other real issue is that too much media coverage of mass killings makes it seem like America is drowning in such events. It is not. The odds of dying in a mass shooting are roughly one in 12,000. The odds of dying in a car crash are one in 500. Think about it.
Americans’ morbid fascination with murder is part of the culture, and the problem. Another component is our need to know, to have more information to see if we can solve the gun-violence puzzle.
Whatever it is, being afraid you’re going to be shot and killed is no way to live.