On Oct. 1, in Roseburg, Ore, the 45th school shooting in 2015 occurred at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In addition to being the 45th school shooting, this tragedy was the 294th mass shooting this year alone.
Although the consensus from all major new organizations and politicians is that this is a tragedy, there is distinct divide regarding the reasons why these mass shootings happen, and why they have become so commonplace. While it may not stem from the media alone, media coverage of mass shootings may play a key role in facilitating these problems.
It has become apparent that these mass shootings are no longer surprising, as President Obama stated in a press conference after the UCC shooting. “Somehow this has become routine, the reporting has become routine. My response here, from this podium, has become routine.”
Politicians and news organizations have used these mass shootings to point fingers at why these shootings occur so often in America. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, they chose to further their political agendas, either by pandering to sponsors or political affiliates.
An example of this has been the overwhelming Republican response. “This is not a gun control issue but an issue of mental health,” Donald Trump, presidential candidate and self proclaimed “big Second Amendment person,” stated in the aftermath of of the UCC shooting, “They’re just sick people.” Trump continued in his interview with NBC’s Meet the Press with an explanation of why mass are common in America,”They’re mentally imbalanced, and they probably see it happening here more.”
In addition, many of the Republican presidential candidates this year have been on record stating that this trend of mass shootings is not related to relaxed gun control laws.
But on the opposite side of the spectrum, Democratic politicians are proclaiming these tragic incidents stem from lack of gun control. Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Another devastating shooting. We need sensible gun control measures to save lives, and I will do everything I can to achieve that.”
In addition to Former Secretary of State Clinton, the Democratic support for gun legislation has been daunting. President Obama addressed the press on Oct. 1 by saying, “Anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people,” Thus attempting to dispel the hypotheses that this is an issue of mental health.“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”
But despite the lasting debate between Republicans and Democrats on whether this is a mental health issue or a gun control issue, there is speculation about other reasons why school shootings and mass shootings are carried out.
For instance, one argument is that some of these acts stem from misogyny. The Associated Press reported that the perpetrator of the UCC shooting complained about not having a girlfriend. In addition, this idea was evident in the case of the UCSB shooting, wherein the gunman reportedly complained about his lack of female companionship, regularly posting to “Wizardchan,” a online forum for male virgins. His posts discussed violence towards women and he even presented a video depicting his plans for the “slaughter” of women.
The Lafayette gunman of the Trainwreck shooting on July 23 earlier this year also had a history of domestic violence towards women. He was also an outspoken misogynist, who once complained about the “growing power of women.”
Conversely, many believe the UCC shooting was a hate crime, based on the gunman’s conduct. One eyewitness recollected that the gunman told his victims to state their religion before shooting them. Another eyewitness reported that the gunman had each victim state their religion and whether they were Christian. If they replied yes, the victim was shot in the head, if their response was no, the gunman shot them in the legs.
Others stated that this was not a hate crime against Christians, but instead an homage to the infamous Columbine shooting, in which twelve students and one teacher were murdered by a duo of teenaged gunmen from Columbine high school. One of the victims, Cassie Bernal, a devout Christian, was asked at gun point, “Do you believe in God?” she replied “yes” and was immediately shot and killed.
The gunman in the UCC shooting reportedly posted his plans for the shooting with just the right amount anonymity to not elicit specific action. The UCC gunman referenced the UCSB shooter, stating, “This is the only time I’ll ever be in the news. I’m so insignificant” just before the shooting occurred. He was allegedly given advice on the shooting in response to his post, and even offered blessings of good fortune.
But the most chilling question to consider is whether the media reaction to these events perpetuates and even facilitates these tragedies? As seen in the previous stories, there’s a distinct notoriety given to the shooters. Which begs the question: does our reporting and displaying the facts of these horrible tragedies simply give notoriety to the gunmen and perpetuate the desire they have for attention and fame?
There is a lot of criticism surrounding how the media reports on mass shootings, specifically whether or not the name on the gunmen should be released or if the tactics used by the gunman should be released to the public. Many argue that the media should refrain from releasing the names and the identifying features of the shooter, and instead should focus on the victims and the act itself. Due to the consistencies seen in mass shootings over the years, many find that these heinous acts are inspired by the notoriety and fame that school shooters and mass murderers achieve.