As we gird ourselves for a national debate over gun rights, let me remind the debaters that the all-time highest death toll in any school massacre was caused by a bomb and not a gun. The Bath School Massacre of 1927 happened because Andrew Kehoe, an otherwise rational adult in his 50s, killed his wife, torched his home and then set off enough dynamite to kill 38 children.
A fiend with mayhem and horror in his mind will find a way to do his deed whether he has a Glock, an assault rifle, his bare hands or a couple bags of fertilizer and a can of diesel fuel. So go ahead, melt down all the guns, but it isn’t going to stop the next Travis Bickle from making his own dark twisted bid for top score in the worst first-person-shooter of all time.
For that’s what this, these fiends and their maniacal acts of incomprehension: their bid for infamy and notoriety. I propose we do one thing to deny them that thrill, the dark epitaph they hope for as they make their plots, buy their black trench coats, stockpile bullets, load their assault rifles and fill their notebooks with plots and schemes just like the “heroes” before them and the ones that will follow them. “I’ll show them,” they’ll vow. “They won’t forget my name after this.”
Let’s ignore them.
Let’s turn our backs and press mute.
Let’s take away what they want.
Let’s agree that we will not name them. we won’t publish their photos. We won’t interview their friends or family, take old pictures out of yearbooks or Facebook, and we will deny them the one thing they couldn’t find in life: our attention. We ignored them before, let’s keep on ignoring them afterwards.
The press can do this on their own: decent news outlets won’t publish that suicide victims killed themselves out of respect for their families (they died “suddenly” or “unexpectedly”), they won’t name victims of accidents or violent crimes until the next of kin have been notified, so why not put in place a tacit policy that maniacs and fiends don’t get named or famed? I learned from a tweet by Xeni Jardin that BoingBoing has an informal policy not to run the photo of these mass murderers. One random guy on Twitter — @SalGomes summed it up: “please don’t spread his name. Don’t make that monster famous. That is what he wants. Don’t forget the atrocity; forget the monster!”
All that really needs to be said is a stark account, “A 20 year-old male killed his 50 year-old mother and used a machine gun to kill a lot of six-year olds with names more deserving of our attention and memory than his.”
The ravenous press, so solicitous and understanding with their concocted sympathy, their bright lights and satellite trucks and bubble-headed anchors hovering like ghouls. can never be trusted to do the right thing. But we the people can. Let the coroner autopsy the madmen’s brains for a clue, let the investigators figure out the causes and try to learn so they can try to out-guess the next desperate domestic terrorist, but we the audience can stop rubbernecking, stop obsessing and stop giving these sad fiends the one thing they want — our horrified attention.
I don’t need to know what their fathers did for a living, what their high school classmates remembered. Yes, it is instructive to know that “high-strung” mothers who collect guns and then take their “developmentally disabled” child with them to a gun range for some mom-son bonding are likely to prove out the cliche that people who own guns often get killed by them. But let’s ignore their names, their street address, let’s stop obsessing over their Facebook profiles, their bad haircuts, and freaked out memories of their friends and neighbors. If that segment of society who is really into serial killers and horror wants to know the gory details, they will find them. But take away their identity and you take away the whole point of going out with a bang. Deny them what they want the most and maybe the next sad loner looking to set the high score and unlock the “terror achievement badge” will realize he’s only going to be shunned. If the press can’t ignore them, then we the audience can. Stop rubbernecking. When that headline about Adam Lanza’s sad life passes your way, pass it over.
So, no more Adam Lanza, Andrew Kehoe, James Eagan Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho. I shouldn’t know their names. I’m ashamed I know who John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy is. That I know what kind of gun Cho used to gun down his classmates. I’m doing to stop worrying about the villain, mourn with the bereaved, and move on.