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David Briceno

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August 16, 2014
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School shootings support senseless sensationalism

“I want to leave a lasting impression on the world.” — Eric Harris, 1999 Columbine killer.

Caution. School’s starting up this month.

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut before putting his gun to his head.

And on April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others (six others were hurt escaping) at Virginia Tech. It ranked as “the deadliest (school) shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.”

School killings receive an inordinate amount of media attention. Future killers know it. In fact, school shootings comprise only four percent of all mass shootings, according to the FBI, yet school shootings disproportionately dominate the news media.

To the detriment of public safety, media sensationalism of massacres encourages wannabe murderers and helps school shooters get their messages across posthumously.

The typical pattern of school shooters goes something like this: These incorrigible killers leave behind a lot of material about themselves for the media to expose, such as journals, manifestos and videos. They plan. They let their friends and/or family occasionally know what they’re up to.

They contact news organizations before the shootings. And they regularly rattle off angry rants way beforehand against just about everything and everyone under the sun.

After they kill and commit suicide, their rants surface through the media leaving a personal “legacy” for the whole world to see. Mass murder, after all, brings sensationalistic publicity/notoriety. Hence, psychopaths commit murders for publicity: to be able to inflict as many personal grievances as possible on as many Americans as possible.

Thus, the incentive to kill increases with the certainty of widespread fame, denied to them while living.

Mass media isn’t always right. On April 20, 1999, when Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, killed 15 and wounded 24 people at Columbine, people wanted to know why.

The media said Harris was a goth (someone who likes the darker side of things), but he was charming, fun-loving, had a great sense of humor, and possessed a personable, 2,000-watt smile.

They claimed Harris was habitually/heavily bullied, but he wasn’t excessively/constantly bullied. They insisted he was antisocial, a social loner. But he had many friends and girlfriends.

Also, Harris was no gang member. School killers are rarely minority gang members. Instead, school killers and victims tend to be upper-middle class, white and privileged.

Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old former student at Santa Barbara City College and resident of Isla Vista (a California college town), killed six and injured 13 on May 23 this year before turning his gun on himself. Afterward, the media’s “witch hunt” uncovered an incredible reason for the killings: Girls wouldn’t have sex with him, so he sought revenge.

The problem with the media’s women-hating, sex-deprivation explanation is that men were killed, too. Rodger fatally stabbed three men at home, shot a man to death inside a deli, exchanged gunfire twice with police, and indiscriminately shot both men and women as he drove from block to block.

Yet, lack of sex and subsequent misogynistic revenge were Rodger’s overriding motives — at least, according to a supposedly infallible, reliable and omniscient media. (The media then claimed Rodger killed guys because they got sex and he didn’t.)

Make no mistake. School shooters aren’t absolutely crazy; they know what they’re doing. School shootings aren’t a result of “snapping.” Granted, most shooters have serious mental and/or emotional issues, but they “sanely” plan their attacks months, even years, in advance.

For instance, Rodger planned his shooting spree for over a year. And Harris declared on his once hate-filled website two years prior to Columbine that he had already made pipe bombs, besides revealing his gun count.

These are sane methodical individuals that didn’t just flip out suddenly, because it takes considerable “normal” forethought to acquire weapons, ammunition and/or explosives to put their diabolical plans into action.

By now, the main question people should be asking themselves is: How can society help prevent school and other types of mass shootings? A monumental step in the right direction would be to deny disaffected shooters an incentive to kill by not allowing their personal thoughts to be made public after dying. Some say arm teachers.

Whatever the solution, school safety should invariably continue being a national priority.

Meanwhile, another human time bomb is ticking away somewhere plotting yet another sensationalistic tragedy. And assuredly afterwards, a culpable media will fan the fires of fame once again.

David Briceno lives in Grass Valley.

To the detriment of public safety, media sensationalism of massacres encourages wannabe murderers and helps school shooters get their messages across posthumously.


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The Union Updated Aug 16, 2014 01:01AM Published Aug 16, 2014 01:01AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.