Sun News Network Shows How to Cover Mass Shootings

2014-06-20 Sun News Network

About two weeks ago, a killer in New Brunswick killed three Royal Canadian Mounted Police and left two more in critical condition. Sun News Network covered the story closely, but in a way that is very different from what the American mainstream press does in similar situations: they refused to release the name or the photo of the killer. They then published an editorial explaining their decision.

Far more people have been killed in the bad neighbourhoods of Chicago than were killed in all the mass shootings combined. But these rare incidents are never forgotten. And with the rise of social media, they’ve become a spectacle… Following the deadly Newtown, Connecticut shooting in December 2012 that left 26 dead, including 20 children, it was discovered that the perpetrator kept a “score sheet” of previous mass shootings. Did he hope his name would be placed at the top of the list?

The theory that publication of mass killings leads to more mass killings is very hard to study empirically because mass killings are so rare, but copycat suicides provide a plausible basis for the fear. In copycat suicides, a well-publicized suicide sparks a wave of imitation suicides. This is a very old phenomenon, with the first notable example dating to the 1774 publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther. Because of this well known effect (called suicide contagion) many news agencies around the world place limitations on the amount of publicity they will give to suicides.

I would like to see similar levels of self-restraint–on the part of news agencies and us, the audience–here in the US. The sad reality is that it’s only a matter of time until we have the opportunity to put it into practice. I do not think that such self-censorship would end mass shootings overnight, but I do think that it could help. And that it’s the least we can do.


Bullet-proof Backpacks for Kids

MotherJones has an article detailing several companies that make backpacks that include hidden bullet-proof plates.

Each of these backpacks includes a bullet-proof plate.

I think the article is meant to be sarcastic or just sort of “What is the world coming to?” because it also includes both children’s bullet-proof vests (clearly not for every day use) as well as a combined body-armor/weapon system that allows you to quickly deploy a chest-plate with a Mac-11 machine pistol. This is not something I imagine Mother Jones would ordinarily be willing to advertise, but effectively they’ve just done that. For free. Politics makes people do strange things.

As far as terrible gun-related advertisements go, these are pretty tame. I once got an ad from The Blaze (run by Glenn Beck) advertising a model of a new civilian rifle that came broken down in a carrying case and could be unpacked into a sniper configuration. At that point you might as well just label the gun “Assassination Model”, and that’s just a little insane.

I'm a fan of guns, and I think the carrying case is neat, but the way the advertisement was structured weirded even me out.
I’m a fan of guns, and I think the carrying case is neat, but the way the advertisement was structured weirded even me out.

I have two kids who go to school, and I’m not really interested in this product, but I wouldn’t look down on someone who bought one (just the backpacks, I mean). The reasons I’m not interested are first of all: my kids are about as likely to be involved in a school shooting as to be struck by lightning. Secondly, I’m not sure that the limited protection of a single plate would really do that much good. And finally, the armor in these backpacks is only rated for handguns, not the rifle that was used by the shooters at Sandy Hook, Aurora, or many other public mass shootings.

Still, I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Understanding after Tragedy

When I realized the scope of what had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I posted the news to my Facebook feed to get the word out and called for people to hold off on the political debate out of respect for the tragedy. That’s not what happened, and even after getting used to the fairly rapid news-cycle in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Aurora shootings, I was shocked and dismayed at how quickly the two sides squared off and began attacking each other. 

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