Guest: The normalization of school shootings

This piece reflects the views of Patience Greene, and not those of Emerald Media Group. The piece is part of a series of op-eds from Peter Laufer’s Reporting I class at the SOJC. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

A friend with self-diagnosed “senioritis” once described to me a common fantasy he had of shooting everyone in his history class one by one. We were walking home from high school with another friend. They joked about teacher reactions, discussing who was most likely protect the students.

After knowing both these boys for several years, I would argue that neither is a real safety hazard. They don’t own guns or show violent tendencies. But they joked about the horrific issue because it has become so normalized in society.

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a fund formed after the Newtown shooting to research and create policy around guns in the U.S., recently compiled a list of all firearm incidents on school property since 2013. Looking only at school shootings intended to cause others harm, data shows shootings usually happen in clusters close together.

For instance, in January 2013 there were seven school shootings, but the most any other month that year had was four. Most months had at least two attacks, and these were usually close in time to one another.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point,” a book on how epidemics spread, wrote an article in The New Yorker comparing the contagious nature of school shootings to sociologist Mark Granovetter’s explanation of riots. Granovetter theorized that people riot because others are rioting. Everyone has a different “threshold,” or number of people around them who need to riot first.

The more regular shootings become in society, the more people will join in.

If this is true, what can be done to deter school shootings other than precautionary measures with gun laws and mental health? Does the media in control of the story have an obligation to protect America from this epidemic? Or do citizens have a right to know any available information?

Charlie Deitz, a UO doctoral student who completed his masters thesis on media ethics covering school shootings, described the standard shooting coverage. After the first official statement, journalists go to the scene and seek information – they go on what Deitz calls a “news carousel.” Then media focuses on the victim or the shooter’s profile.

Deitz said some theories push against naming the shooter because it encourages copycats, but instead he focuses on this news carousel.

The time spent dwelling on the unknown plays up the drama and suspense of the story. Sticking to the facts and keeping people informed without excess coverage could help avoid normalizing the issue.

Another ethical issue of media coverage comes from handling traumatized sources.

Stephanie Domurat, a Eugene journalist at KMTR NBC, said being a local station comes with advantages when handling trama. They have the option to look back on the reunion of a tragedy, but in Domurat’s case, they didn’t feel the need to revive the pain. Local journalists are part of the community, and because of this personal investment, they are more likely to treat victims with respect.

Perhaps if media took a less-is-more approach to tragedy, teenagers wouldn’t feel so comfortable joking about commiting massacre.

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