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How news media can help prevent shooting massacres

By Chris Allen - posted Thursday, 20 December 2012


There is no mystery about school killings. The real causes are staring us in the face; criminological research demonstrates that these are copycat crimes.

Notice how they echo and change the storylines of past crimes: locations were in the 1980s post offices, then became gun-free schools and malls; perpetrators were first PLO terrorists, then aging males with relationship issues and in recent years mentally unstable young men.

Research in the USA showed that the mainstream news media provide training manuals for copycats, with their inset boxes listing weapons in 'arsenals'; they refer to the killers' 'meticulous planning' while laying out easy bullet-point lists of actions leading up to the crimes. The killers he researched kept articles from Time and Newsweek, and obsessively watched news and current affairs reports on how they could easily get guns to commit massacres. Now they turn to NBC, CNN and ABC and the online media. The news shows, not computer games or violent movies, are the most effective teachers of mass killing.

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We understand now that people build maps or scripts of how to act from what they see others around them doing. The more alike someone seems, the more their situation can be applied to yours, the more likely it is you will act like them. This applies to choice of fashions and musical tastes, choosing education options - and to committing crimes. News people know this and enforce internal guidelines to help prevent suicide and crime copycats. But for a mass shooting, the urgent opportunity to boost audiences and present copy overwhelms their ethical hesitation, and they convince themselves their carefully-preened moral outrage is a force for good.

But they don't stop there. The responsible news media provide billions of dollars in name recognition, photo publicity and hours of discussion about the significance of the killings and their perpetrators. They partner with political activists, fomenting hatred of the journalists' political enemies and creating moral campaigns to punish them. Their actions invest the killers with a huge social significance, that these mentally unstable, morally deficient losers would never otherwise achieve.

Detailed news 'instruction' has taught even the mentally handicapped how; and enormous social significance is guaranteed if they act. Our news services created the string of mass murders, and made an engine to keep it going.

News reporters are not the only ones causing the massacres. What kind of people are ready at a moment's notice to profit from mass killings? Who are the people who write the copy for them, who stand in front of their cameras and gravely incite moral outrage at whole classes of political enemies? The news media have formed strong and profitable partnerships with pet activists.

In Australia, gun control activism started in the late 1970s. Activists quickly partnered with journalists sensationalizing and editorializing gun violence. Their influence grew and the activists brought the American fashion for gun control into the Australian media scene. A string of massacres started; the initiating event of massacres in Australia was the 1984 bikie gang ambush called by media the Milperra Massacre, a stupid private melée that left seven dead including an innocent bystander. The stage was set for Australian copycats, and (depending what you count), over the next 12 years the Australian media taught more than a dozen violent losers who actually committed massacres.

In October 1995 a current affairs team joined activists from the National Coalition for Gun Control and Greenpeace. They carefully detailed how to buy guns illegally, demonstrating every step with an attractive spokes-model. They showed how easy it could be to use the guns, then blew apart a melon like a victim's head. Then a prominent activist framed our fear as destiny: "We are going to have a massacre in Tasmania!' Six months later, the Police asked Martin Bryant when he bought his assault rifle. The answer: 'About five months ago.'

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This program was explicitly named by the Coroner as the cause of at least one other death – that of a Melbourne man who travelled to Tasmania, bought a gun as taught by the program, and killed himself. A journalist asked the NCGC activist, whose words may have triggered the killings, about this verdict and he lashed out with bitter hostility.

There is a very obvious imitative trigger in mass killings, after the training phase of media communication to the prospective killer. It is quite usual that intensive media for one massacre is immediately rewarded by another, and for several smaller attacks to be foiled in the weeks after. The trigger for the Port Arthur killings was the unprecedented media coverage of the Dunblane killings of schoolchildren. No news editor or current affairs producer has ever been held to account for the massacres, yet the connection in timing is obvious.

John Howard led the moralizers of Australian media and politics, a lynch mob against the people who didn't do the crime. For three years it seemed any 'nice' person talking about guns had to say 'I hate guns as much as anybody, but…' before they could relate how normal life had involved guns. At the Sydney Olympics, shooters won the first gold medals and ordinary Australians got over political correctness in the glow of national pride and camaraderie.

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About the Author

Chris Allen is an independent consultant geologist living in Perth, married with four grown children. He has an Honours degree in Science and an MBA and is a Member of the Australian Institute of Geoscientists. His interests include politics and media, volunteering; Toastmasters; windsurfing and antique guns. He is a Wikipedia editor on ‘Gun politics in Australia’ and debunks conspiracy theories and creationism in between.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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