One of the debates that erupts following a mass shooting is whether the identity of the perpetrator should be revealed. Moreover, and as an extension of that debate, does publicizing the identity of the perpetrator inspire copycat crimes?
My friend, and the interviewer in the video above Jon Hodoway, believes that the media should refrain from releasing the name or identity of the killer as well as avoid posting photos of the individual on the nightly news, in newspapers, on the Internet, etc. Hodoway believes that the constant media attention only serves to glorify the A-hole (as he likes to label the killer) while encouraging other deranged persons to follow suit.
On the other side of the argument is nationally syndicated radio host Lars Larson, who we spoke to at SHOT Show 2016. Larson made several cogent points on why publicizing the name of the killer is the right thing to do.
For starters, Larson disputed the causal relationship between spree shooters and supposed copycats. Larson essentially argued that there is no way to prove a counter-factual. Next, he argued that there is a lot of useful information gathered by authorities when the public knows who the killer is, especially when the killer has not yet been caught. It stands to reason that a community on the lookout for a killer, is better than just a police department.
Lastly, Larson then said that even if the media wanted to keep the killer’s name a secret, it would be impossible to do because of social media. Everyone has access to the Internet, and thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, everyone has a platform to share information.
Jon and Lars also talked about the possibility of using public shaming, bringing back the stocks, to disincentive murderous and destructive behavior. Yet, to do that, it takes naming. As Lars said, “shaming takes naming.”
It’s an interesting discussion. No doubt about it. So, who’s right? Well, that’s just the thing. It’s really a matter of opinion.
Respected criminologist James Alan Fox, who studies spree killers, told The Washington Post in 2012, “How often must we see the alleged murderer’s name in print and his face shown in photographs from happier times? It is perfectly reasonable to shed light on the tragic event without a media spotlight on the alleged assailant. It is shameless, if not dangerous, to transform an obscure individual into an infamous somebody who may be revered and admired by a few folks on the fringe.”
Yet, he also cautioned that proving causation remains difficult.
“The empirical evidence isn’t strong,” said Fox. “It’s really all anecdotal.” It’s hard to know, for example, if a copycat would have simply committed a different crime to express his inner demons or no crime at all if he hadn’t heard of the first crime, Fox told the Post.
Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think we should publicize the name, identity of these spree killers?