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Friday, December 07, 2007

Forget Their Very Names

Today, in the wake of the Omaha Mall shooting, the news media is rushing to get the killer's image on their front pages as quickly as possible. In the next two weeks we will be treated to an exhaustive study of the young man who killed 8 innocent people - his history, his psyche and his motivation. Endless television, radio and print media reporters will beat their chests and cry "Why, why, why?"

They are answering their own question.

The news media will trot out pundits who cry for more gun control and for less gun control because political fights are fun for reporters, who enjoy tossing raw meat in amongst the hyenas and watching the fun that follows. The wise men amongst us will speculate as to who is to blame as though the issue were entirely black and white.

It is not. I have extensive experience confronting violent people. I worked for many years with violent children and teens. I've stood nose to nose with a young man who had a 6 inch hunting knife pointed at my unprotected belly and talked my way out of it. Violent behavior cannot be understood in black and white.

Many speculate about whether allowing mall patrons to carry guns would have made a difference and in the ensuing verbal smoke, we all ask ourselves whether, if we had been there and we had been armed, would we have been able to fire the shot that ended that young man's life - even if it might have saved the lives of the innocent bystanders.

I know that answer for myself because of my training and experience with violent people. If I were the only one in the line of fire, I would think twice. I used to work with mental patients and with a patient who was having a violent episode, I would always try to talk him down before doing any sort of restraint of physical intervention. I am prepared to turn the other cheek so long as that cheek is my cheek alone.

However, if there is another person, in danger, threatened especially by an armed individual, I would not hesitate to take the attacker down. The large teenaged boys I dealt with in the psych facilities where I worked, soon learned that so long as they only threatened me, they were not likely to suffer the indignity of being taken to the ground by a paunchy old guy and were more likely to walk away with some dignity in tact. They also knew that if they continued to attack or seriously threaten someone else, especially someone smaller, it was the quickest way imaginable to find themselves pinned to the floor by the paunchy old guy. The sudden ignominious end to the confrontation entirely spoiled the drama for them, so they quit threatening others in those situations and confined themselves to shouting obscenities at me - much more dramatic and satisfying for them.

There is a reason every major massacre in recent years has taken place in a gun-free zone. No homicidal killer wants to raise his gun and have someone shoot him in the head before he can start killing people. It would totally ruin the effect he is aiming for. It takes a way all the drama. My work with deeply troubled teens gave me a real insight into what goes on in the minds of people who resort to large scale violence to cope with their unhappiness.

I actually had kids in therapy who told me they planned to "die in a hail of police gunfire". They wanted to die spectacularly and to become famous. It's a pathetic search for a way to leave a mark in a world that they feel they have no stake in.

But, if we deny them the fame, then we deny them the very thing that motivates them to kill. The most effective tool we have to prevent this sort of mayhem is to make sure that whoever does this kind of thing is wiped from our collective memory - their names forgotten for all time.

It's the only thing that will work. To ever do this, we would need to re-invent our culture and make our morbid curiosity generally unacceptable. We could still allow for the morbidly curious to get their news fix about the victims - simply use an obviously fake name.

Those who want to die in a hail of gunfire have a deadly fear of being anonymous. The last thing they inevitably say in this life is something to the effect that "I'll show them. They'll never forget me."

How about let's show them. How about let's forget them. Let's not even remember their names. It would be a kindness to their families. It would be a kindness to the victims families. It might even dissuade others from copying this young man's example. It might just save some lives and all it requires is that we give up our morbid fascination with mass murders. How hard is that?

Sure, with a free press, you'll always get bloggers and sensational newspapers that won't go along with it, but even then, if they are in the disapproved of minority, the killer still loses his or her desired fame and attention. If you're only going to be remembered by some obscure blogger or weekly gossip rag, what's the point. These guys are going for national news media and front page headlines, not a place beside Bigfoot and that space alien that tells the presidents what to do.

I'm doing my best to forget them all. When I read a news story, I deliberately avoid paying attention to the name of the killer at all. To this day I couldn't tell you who the Virginia Tech guy was or name a single high school shooter or the McDonald's guy, the Killeen shooter or any of the other mass murders of the past 20 years. You can deliberately forget someone if you try hard.


What if every one of us pledged to never say or write the name of a mass murderer again? What if we each told ten friends and asked them to do the same and they, in turn, told ten friends and so on and so on. In just a few repetitions, you can wind up with an astronomical number of people who have heard the idea. If half of us took the pledge, we could create a cultural phenomenon where a culture (or at least a sizeable chunk of that culture) conciously decided to change itself and renounce the glorification of these people.

What if we threatened to stop watching news media that ran endless photographs and profiles of the killers. I noticed today that I haven't seen one single photo of the victims, yet, but that smarmy delinquent that murdered 8 innocent people is on the front page of everywhere. It makes me sick and it's cruel to his family.

So, let's just stop it. I'll write my ten letters. How about you?

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

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