The United States has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the developed world. This poses a problem for administrators in elementary and secondary schools. Trained as teachers, they must not only educate young Americans but also keep them safe from the ever-present threat of mass shootings.
Many young people are terrified of their school becoming the next Columbine, Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas. And their fear is not unjustified.
Despite this, the Trump administration continues to mischaracterize the source of danger. The White House is pinning the blame on media corporations, not the country’s incredibly lax system of firearms regulations. Unfortunately, the president and his cronies are doing more harm than good when it comes to their supposed efforts to increase school safety.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the administration’s new report on school safety. As a New York Times headline put it, the report, compiled by several federal departments and presented to the president, “plays down” the role of guns in school shootings.
Instead, the Trump administration wants the American people to believe journalists are at fault for mass gun violence — or at least more so than gun manufacturers, gun-rights lobbyists and the politicians who block sensible gun regulation.
The president made this interpretation clear in published remarks from a roundtable discussion on school safety last week:
We’ve taken important steps, but much work remains to be done, as always. Today, we are reviewing the recommendations put forward by the School Safety Commission. These include… launching a No Notoriety campaign, which would encourage the media not to use the names or, frankly, anything having to do with the shooters.
I see it all the time; they make these people famous. And they’re not famous; they’re opposite. They’re horrible, horrible people. I think that’s a very important one — No Notoriety campaign.
This characterization of the news media really bothers me.
First, it must be noted it is certainly not the primary goal of journalists to make mass shooters famous or notorious. The goal of reporting on these events is to publish accurate information surrounding what is, for many, a life-altering tragedy. In the wake of these shootings, people are looking for answers as to what happened and why. Responsible journalism ought to include details about the perpetrator simply for the sake of establishing a clear public record.
Second, if the reporting is being conducted as the shooting is still in progress, the information serves as a vital public safety announcement to surrounding residents. Journalists have a large microphone, and in these scenarios they use it to keep those in close proximity to the danger apprised of the unfolding situation. Knowing whom the perpetrator is, where he or she is and whether the threat has yet to be neutralized often works to contain the situation and keep innocent bystanders safe and secure.
Third, let’s not forget the tone of coverage is often as important as the amount of coverage. When it comes to perpetrators of mass shootings, news media never paint them in a positive light. In fact, they often do the opposite, showing mass shooters to be vile, animalistic human beings who should not be countenanced nor emulated.
Fourth, reporting concerning mass shootings, especially in the days and weeks following the event, tends to focus more on the lives of the victims than on the background of the perpetrator. This is a vital role of journalism that is often forgotten. Journalists bring people together in the mourning of those who died or were grievously injured, offering the victims’ loved ones solace in the face of unforeseen tragedy.
In vilifying the news media, the Trump administration is merely looking for a scapegoat on which to pin the blame of this solvable problem. Instead of targeting journalists, the White House should focus its efforts on enacting serious gun control regulation. If the federal government were truly willing to try, it could save the lives of thousands of young Americans with a few quick signatures.
Gun control works, as has been proven in many other countries that at one point or another faced a problem similar to our own. If they can learn from their mistakes, why can’t we? ■