Is it time to stop publicly identifying mass murderers?
It is no secret, the personality profiles of past mass murderers indicate their desire for fame. In their pathetic life as loaners, outcasts, and reprobates, they ultimately seek attention and notoriety.
Give Them Anonymity
Whether they are lunatics or legally insane, time and again people who desire to kill en-masse are looking to see their name and picture in headlines. In some sick way they are driven to make the “record books,” or learn their “work” has made the top 10 list of killers.
So if they are motivated by attention, let’s remove it!
Censorship or Sensible?
This is not a call to censor the press, but require news agencies to refer to mass murderers by number or some other means. Admittedly, this will not discourage all of these deranged individuals, but it will impact many of them.
While I’m simply brainstorming, which is sure to receive criticism, this is how it could potentially work.
First, the government needs to define what qualifies as mass murder. As of now the definitions are all over the map. This has allowed the anti-gun crowd to compile various forms of criminal acts into inappropriate categories. (A shooting that results from domestic violence between a husband and wife parked next to a school should not be categorized as a “school shooting” as has been the case in some of these slanted reports.)
Second, once the definition is determined, the mass murderer could be issued a number. I.e. MM 18-100, MM 18-101, etc… The person can be identified to the press (simply to avoid secrecy) and other sources, but they are prohibited from using the name or image in news coverage. Violations would result in hefty fines.
If we refrain from using the killer’s identifiers, it doesn’t guarantee anything. However, it certainly removes one element that we know motivates mass murderers. … PUBLICITY!
Forerunner to the Idea
I have at least one person who supports this position. Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, Oregon.
“You will never hear me mention his name,” said Hanlin in 2015 when asked for the identity of a 26-year-old who killed nine and injured nine more during a shooting spree at Umpqua College. The suspect died after an exchange of gunfire with police.
“I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Hanlin said, adding he hoped the media wouldn’t either.
It’s Not Difficult
Law enforcement already uses a system of anonymity when referring to confidential sources. Every time I wrote an affidavit seeking a search warrant, and used information from a confidential informant, I referred to the person by number, beginning with the year, followed by a sequential numeral. For instance, it would be CI 18-001, CI 18-002, etc. The person is known, but their identity is not publicly revealed.
To the naysayers, I know there are many potential problems with this idea. Paramount among them is the press fighting potential legislation as violations of the First Amendment much like the NRA advocates for the Second Amendment. But left leaning idealist beat the “gun control” drum every time we have a horrific crime involving firearms. Therefore, it’s time for other proposals that are worth discussing. And this is just one of many that needs consideration.
So while I believe we should harden targets and soften hearts as basic principles to attack this problem, I also realize there are major obstacles. Hardening targets seems too drastic to some, and softening hearts will appear to encroach on morality to others. As a result, perhaps something like anonymity is an achievable step that can be taken.
What are your thoughts?
– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today