Washington Case Revives Debate About 'Contagious' Mass Shootings
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Washington state last night another teenage girl died from injuries suffered in a shooting. That shooting happened on Friday in the town of Marysville. A total of three students have now died, including the boy who carried out the attack. Three other students remain hospitalized.
NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle that this shooting has revived fears that media attention could lead to copycats.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The shooter in Marysville was quickly identified on Friday but not by the authorities. This was the police chief, Rick Smith, that same day.
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RICK SMITH: I know that there is considerable interest in naming of the shooter. In fact, you're seeing stuff all over Twitter and social media at this time. We are not going to confirm any names at this time.
KASTE: What was striking was the way the police tried to mold the coverage, particularly on the question of why the boy did what he did.
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SMITH: I will not promote that motivation by devoting any time on the shooter. Instead, we should focus on the heroic efforts of teachers who quickly moved students to safety.
KASTE: You hear that more and more at these news conferences - don't focus on the culprit, focus on the heroes.
JACLYN SCHILDKRAUT: Which is a great strategy.
KASTE: Jaclyn Schildkraut is an assistant professor of public justice at the State University of New York at Oswego. She studies the relationship between media and mass shootings.
SCHILDKRAUT: There is research to show that when you focus more on the shooter versus the victims, you are tending to dramatize it more.
KASTE: She's noticed that some media are now reporting a little less on the shooters. The trend may have started in 2012, when the governor of Colorado made it a point not to say the name of the killer in the Aurora movie theater massacre. People who downplay shooters identities say they want to avoid creating copycats. It's also become an argument for suppressing information. Here in Washington state, Seattle Pacific University has been fighting the release of a video shooting on its campus in June. They say it may inspire another killer. On the other side of that case is Eric Stahl. He's the lawyer for the news organizations that want that video.
ERIC STAHL: There's no evidence at all that a depiction or description of an event like this leads to copycats or to further events.
KASTE: That's true. Most researchers have been reluctant to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between media coverage and mass shootings. In fact, this perception we have that school shootings come in rashes or clusters - that's apparently wrong.
GAREN WINTEMUTE: They are not clustering. That has been looked at in formal statistical ways.
KASTE: That's Garen Wintemute. He runs the Violence Prevention research program at the University of California Davis. He says not only are school shootings not really clustering, the overall homicide rate in schools has held steady for a couple of decades and statistically, schools are one of the places that American kids are least likely to get shot.
WINTEMUTE: School-age kids probably spend a quarter to a third of a day at school, but only one to 1 to 2 percent of homicides of school-age kids occur at school. Relative to the rest of the community, school is the safest place kids can be at.
KASTE: Wintemute says school shootings deserve coverage because they're so rare and he takes a utilitarian view; since student shooters tend to bring their guns from home, he thinks maybe the coverage will cause parents to rethink what he calls the gun in the nightstand and whether it should really be there.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
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