Mass Shooters: To Publish or Not to Publish the Perpetrator’s Name

After every mass shooting, a predictable chorus of political responses follows.  Typically, both politicians on the left and right will condemn the hatred that inspired the horrific acts.  After the perfunctory thoughts and prayers, most political creatures will resort to their talking points.  The left will bemoan that it was a preventable tragedy, if only there had been “common sense” gun legislation to stop it.  In turn, the right will insist that the tragedy could have been more easily prevented by a bystander with a gun, or they will explain why whatever proposed gun law would not have stopped that specific tragedy.  This is a war of attrition. More bystanders grow tired of the bickering and become apathetic rather than switch sides due to the persuasiveness of the opposition’s argument.

A recent opinion has grown popular from individuals on both sides of the political fence, however, it appears that many of the mass shooters are motivated by the customary notoriety that will follow their dastardly deed.  Many well intentioned media figures have pushed the idea of not publishing the names of such individuals.  On the surface, it sounds like a great way to limit the attention that mass murderers receive for doing the worst possible act.

However, this is a short-sighted solution.  If any law were instituted that forbade the publishing of the names of mass shooters, distrust and skepticism of the media and the government would only grow further.  Moreover, interested parties would attempt to conduct their own research into the identity of the shooter.  Furthermore, tough questions arise.  For example, if a family member of one of the victims inquires into the identity of the perpetrator, do you tell them?  And if so, would you punish a family member of a victim if they made the perpetrator’s identity public?

Unfortunately, mass shootings are a modern phenomena, and members of the media, like us, are attempting to discern the appropriate response. It is certainly disgusting when publications such as The Rolling Stone publish glamour shots of terrorists like the Boston Bomber.  However, we as a society should reject organizations that engage in such behavior to disincentivize them from doing so in the future, not disallow them from doing so in the first place.  

Such a policy will only lead to nosy sleuths attempting to put the pieces together on their own.  Any type of law that prevents people from publicly denouncing and ridiculing the perpetrators of is at best quixotic and at worst Orwellian.  

The more interesting question remains  what drives people to commit such horrendous acts, and should be the focus.