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Make Mass Murderers Disappear

Mass murderers are getting rewarded for their crimes with fame. They should be given the boot instead. (Image by Milo)

In light of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, it’s time to rethink some laws. Not just gun laws, but laws across the board. The issue of mass shootings is much bigger than firearms.

As things stand, many people believe that guns and ammo must be banned, calling those who disagree loonies and crazies. But that is missing the bigger picture. Making guns illegal or impossible to obtain for everyone will not reduce crime. It may curb mass shootings, but crime elsewhere could be boosted. Gangs may take advantage. The country may destabilize as Second Amendment champions move in to defend their favorite piece of legislation, justifiably or not.

In other words, the opportunity cost may be too great and the blowback not worth it.

The onus lies elsewhere, beyond gun laws, on the media attention given to sick psychos like Adam Lanza. This attention is staggering and counterproductive. The current way of reporting crimes is hazardous, cancerous and conducive to more crime, partially fueling the impulse of sickos like him to commit heinous deeds so that they may get their fifteen minutes.

The media ought to reconsider their role in this affair and not build mass murderers into cult figures

It shouldn’t be so. The media spotlight should not be shining on Adam Lanza or any other such murderer. We need to make sure of that. The public’s attention is something homicidal psychos have to be deprived of. Neither fame nor infamy should be the result of their actions. The only reward for them should be ignominy.

In other words, the media ought to reconsider their role in this affair and not build mass murderers into cult figures.

Morgan Freeman, renowned actor, thankfully pointed this out shortly after the Newtown shooting. He put the onus on the mass media, pointing out the folly in the way they operate. He isolated the roots of the problem in the midst of a frenzy that looks for answers in knee-jerk, blanket prohibitions that have little chance of being effective.

Kudos to him. In an age where celebrity is everything, this celebrated actor has employed his reach in its fullest capacity to make a point.

But how do we get the media to change their ways?

There are a number of ways. The simplest is to take the initiative and force the message through. If everyone stops watching the news, ratings would be crippled and the demand clear: stop being sensationalist.

Easier said than done. Ten years ago I would have argued for such a measure, convinced we could pull it off. By now I know better. We can’t count on everyone’s willingness to stop the news from acting irresponsibly. There’s no such willingness. People are too easily tantalized by negative, spicy sound bytes. The media has turned sensationalist because the masses like it that way. They love it.

This passes the buck to the corporate boards. If the people can’t take effective action against yellow, loud, mass-murder-hyping journalism, the leaders of the corporations can. Those in charge of the news stations ought to sit down and examine their practices. A re-evaluation of how heinous crimes are reported should be made and a common ethic ought to be defined, whereby no station or news outlet is allowed to report on mass shootings in a sensationalist manner. Strong managers will need to find ways to convince their shareholders that money not made from squeezing the teat of a school massacre is neither money lost nor bad management. It’s sound policy.

Should they be unable to agree on an acceptable ethic, or unwilling to apply it, then the state has no option but to intervene and regulate them.

Information on the suspect could be limited to his or her identity, with no speculative reporting, no psych profiling, no digging into his or her past

This would be an unfortunate and most regrettable turn of events. Having the government intervene in the media is synonymous to trouble. Freedom of speech is crucial to an open society, and can’t be tampered with. But bearing in mind that free speech is not just a right but also a responsibility, a certain amount of strong-arming may be necessary to remind reporters they can’t report on grave issues willy-nilly. Getting rid of murder-hype may do us some good.

This could be done in a number of ways. One is to enforce a moratorium on interviewing witnesses for up to three days after a shooting. News and reporting could be limited to the police and local authorities. Information on the suspect could be limited to his or her identity, with no speculative reporting, no psych profiling, no digging into his or her past, nothing that builds the culprit into a cult figure. Heavy fines could be issued for violating the code.

Once the principle is in place and everyone is on board on how to conduct more ethical reporting, the government could ease off. Having shown its teeth and willingness to gag irresponsible stories, the message would pass. Threatening to use censorship laws would do the trick, working as a deterrent.

Regarding the judicial aspects of the crime, I believe that a change in due process must be applied to cases of mass shootings in order to prevent the media frenzy from spilling over them. They should be treated as special cases. Trials could be conducted behind closed doors, during which the accused would face the bench in private, away from mass media scrutiny. If found guilty, the accused are to be sequestered away for life, in a special unit, designed only for such offenders. Keeping mass murderers away from prison populations will prevent adding fuel to the already volatile prison complexes.

Mass murder offenders could also be sentenced to death and have their bodies disposed of secretly in a location or manner known only to their families. Secrecy clauses regarding their location or details would have to be signed by all family members.

The death penalty is of course a tricky issue, too. It’s barbaric and counterproductive. But mass murderers may deserve such ferocity. Suspects are clearly the perpetrators in these cases, since their crime is done in broad daylight. There’s no prospect of an offender being innocent other than on grounds of legal technicality. Do you want a mass murderer to go free on a technicality?

I don’t. I may not be in favor of the death penalty in general, I find it unbecoming of a civil society, but in this particular case I deem it appropriate. Mass murderers need to be put away, and fast. Whether this is done by putting them down or locking them away in a place where no one will ever hear of them again makes no difference. Out of sight, out of mind, end of story, moving on.

Failure to do so will result in more deranged people grabbing a gun and going for their sick fifteen minutes of fame. Restrict firearms all we want – like we did alcohol and drugs – it won’t make a difference. Deranged killers will always find a way to commit mass murder if their reward is the global spotlight, even if it comes while they’re behind bars. The only way to stop them it to take the spotlight away from them and make them realize no one will ever hear of them again. As if they’d never existed.