Don’t Destroy First Amendment to Stop Mass Public Killings

Don't Destroy First Amendment to Stop Mass Public Killings
Don’t Destroy First Amendment to Stop Mass Public Killings

U.S.A.-( We are in the midst of a cluster of public mass murder. Such clusters are created and promoted, in large part, by media coverage of the events, which normalize them. The media coverage provides unstable individuals with permission, templates for action, scenarios, and tactics.

Reason magazine produced a podcast with the foremost expert on mass murder/rampage events, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, on August 14, 2019. Fox has published 18 books, dozens of journal and magazine articles, and hundreds of newspaper columns. The podcast is well worth the time to listen. Fox, who has studied the subject for 35 years, makes several cogent points.

Fox clarifies the definition of a mass public killing compared to a mass shooting, explains how the definitions have been muddied and how the changes are used to sensationalize the subject. Mass public killings are what the public is most concerned with.  Most mass killings, about 3/4, are private mass killings. About a half are domestic.  Another quarter are gang or crime related.

There is no evidence of an epidemic of mass public killings. The event numbers and the numbers of victims are too small to draw a conclusion.  It may simply be a spike, not a trend. Part of the problem is the copy cat/ media contagion effect, which creates an obsession with public mass killing. The coverage reinforces the idea that the way to solve a problem, or to “get even” is to pick up a gun and start killing people. Mass killers see themselves as victims. They blame other people for their failures.

Fox says it is hard to establish a trend based on what 5 or 6 people have done, in a population of over 300 million.

As an example of how coverage sensationalizes the events and numbers, in 2013 the definition of “mass shooting” was changed to include 4 or more people who were shot, not even people killed. In half of the cases no one was killed. In 3/4 of cases, one or less was killed.  Yet media coverage often mixes the term “mass shooting” with the rare “mass public killing” to sensationalize the events and promote public fear and legislation.

There is no evidence of an epidemic of “mass shootings”, either, which are different from mass public killings. The data are not there. No one has collected data prior to 2013 on  “mass shootings”.  It is nearly impossible to go back in time and find data from archives, because the events were covered differently, and often ignored.

In 2019, we have a cluster of eight public mass murders committed in Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, and the United States in a six month period. Most of these are likely the result of sensationalist media coverage. The events in Japan and China show a gun is not necessary for a public mass killing.

There is the California, Garlic Festival, event on 28 July, 2019, with 3 murdered.  This event does not meet the four people murdered definition, but the media coverage places it squarely in the cluster.

This is a cluster of eight events, over a six month period, promoted by media coverage around the world, even without the Garlic Festival event.

James Alan Fox believes coverage of the events can be done while minimizing the media contagion effect. He thinks the way the events are covered can make a large difference in whether more mass killings are triggered. He says there is big difference between reporting and celebrity watch. The media needs to stop making the perpetrators into celebrities, which elevates them in the eyes of potential killers.

Fox says most mass killers do not have criminal records. He says mass killers are extremely determined individuals who will get a gun in spite of gun laws.  Mass public killings are so rare an event, they are impossible to predict.

James Alan Fox says murders with guns are at historical lows.  Fox is in favor of more gun laws, but he says mass public killings are the wrong reason for such laws. He says there is no reason to believe such laws would reduce mass public killings.

During 2019, there have been at least five other mass public killings that do not quite meet the definition as given above. They are gang attacks and Muslim terrorism/religious attacks.

We are seeing a concentrated effort by the media in the United States to use mass public murders to advance their desire to disarm the public. There is a long history of media distorting events to promote their ideological agenda.

In an aside, James Alan Fox’ own beliefs illustrate how successful one of those campaigns was. In the 1950s, the media and Progressive politicians were able to obtain bans on the carry, transport, and ownership of switchblade knives, all based on sensationalized media accounts of an epidemic of violence involving switchblades.  Fox bought into this narrative. Fox even references “West Side Story”.

There was no reliable data to back up the claims made in the 1950s. Today, are we finally rolling back these bans. In the meantime, tens of thousands of innocent people, the majority of minorities, have been victimized in the criminal justice system, using these highly suspect laws.

The United States has a long history of media-induced legislation. When the media are a mix of partisan views, their effect is limited; alternate views and narratives are easily available. When the media become concentrated and ideologically unified, their force in passing legislation becomes enormous.  Those in the media have known this for a hundred years. By the 1960s, if not earlier, the media in the United States became overwhelmingly dominated by Progressive ideology.  The switchblade ban was an early case showing how legislation could be passed without evidence or facts.

With mass public killings, there is considerable evidence media coverage acts as a feedback mechanism. More sensationalist coverage results in more killings, which results in more coverage.

Exposing the feedback loop, and the media complicity in it may help to tone down the creation of celebrity status for the killers.

That would have far more effect than attempting to stop determined mass killers from obtaining firearms in a nation with over 400 million guns.  The social cost of victimizing tens of millions of gun owners who hold the Second Amendment dear, must be considered.

Mass killings are very rare, even with the media promotion. We should not throw out the First Amendment or the Second Amendment, in emotional attempts to reduce those extremely rare events.

About Dean Weingarten:Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.