How to Stop Mass Shootings: Eliminate Rewards for Future Copycat Criminals

Photo of no-gun image and text with words How to Stop Mass Shootings and caption about eliminating rewards for copycat school shooters of infamy through media coverage
How to Stop Mass Shootings? Eliminate the payoff to Copycat Criminals.
The conversation about how to stop mass shootings needs to include more than a discussion of gun control and mental health. We also need to be talking about the role the media plays in perpetuating this cycle of sensational violence. Specifically, we need to address the rewards the media promises to future copycat criminals: shoot up your school, and we will have the entire country talking about and paying attention to YOU!

How to Stop Mass Shootings: Stop the Media Hyper-focus on the Shooters

Here's how to stop mass shootings: enforce a media blackout after these horrific crimes occur. Eliminate from the public eye every identifying feature of these mass shooters: their lifestyles, their psychological history, their social media rants, their deranged personal narratives, etc.

Obviously, the government cannot mandate that consistently with the First Amendment in America, and the media is highly unlikely to show any self-restraint anytime soon (it's all about ratings and advertising dollars). As it turns out, the real constitutional barrier to resolving the issue of mass shootings lies not with the Second Amendment, but with the First.

However, because the media companies do care about advertising revenue, it would be possible (at least in theory) to target their advertisers with threats of boycotts due to the way the media sensationalizes these mass shooters after the fact, thereby giving these savages the 15-minutes of fame -- or rather, infamy -- that they so desperately were craving when they plotted their crimes.

What Motivates the Perpetrators of Mass Shootings (especially School Shootings)?

To really stop mass shootings, we have to ask, what is it that mass shooters are trying to get? What reward, however perverse or insane, are they seeking? If you can get the answer to that, and if you can thereafter take away that reward, then you can stop future mass shootings.

As child psychologists have long pointed out, if children can't get positive attention, they will seek out negative attention. To an immature mind, negative attention is better than no attention at all. And to get that negative attention, the child may even commit antisocial acts that will cause severe self-harm. Why? Because the child believes -- or simply feels on a primal level -- that the self-harm is outweighed by the promised reward of future attention, even in the form of infamy.

Prior to shooting up Columbine, the criminals talked among themselves about how a movie would someday be made about them, and they speculated who would direct and star in it. And in the aftermath of Columbine, dozens of disaffected, delusion, angry, and antisocial teenagers saw that the quick and effective way to become significant -- to matter enough so that people would talk endlessly about you and wonder what made you tick and speculate about what might have been going on inside your mind to make you do the things you did -- that the way to become notorious and infamous, was to shoot up your school or some public place, to take a lot of lives quickly with your favorite assault rifle, and then turn the gun on yourself as the police closed in. For kids who were sick and tired of being an insignificant nobody, this was a surefire recipe for becoming a somebody overnight, and it is no surprise that copycat crimes started springing up all over America.

Stop Mass Shootings by Eliminating the Rewards that the Shooters Seek

There are multiple ways to address this issue. The two that have been getting the most attention are (1) eliminating the free and easy access that sociopaths have to assault rifles and other weapons of modern warfare and (2) flagging, monitoring, and treating individuals who are becoming mentally ill to the point that they pose a real danger to the health and safety of others. Both of these are important, but they are not enough.

Imagine if the media had reported on Columbine the same way they reported on an IED attack in Iraq. Imagine that the media focused its reporting on the event itself and its horrible impact on the victims and their familes and communities. But imagine that the media had not even mentioned the names of the shooters, except perhaps in passing. Imagine the portraits of the killers had never been plastered across the front pages and television screens from coast to coast. Imagine that no one knew or cared what music they listened to, what video games they played, what idiotic and narcissistic drivel they had written about in their journals, what stupid clothes they wore or what moronic name they had given to their so-called mafia. Imagine that the world carried on as if the specific identities of the deceased shooters really did not matter all that much, as if those young sociopaths had never even existed.

And then imagine that they plague of school shootings had been nipped in the bud. Because none of the other sociopathic schoolkids would have seen that they could achieve notoriety by shooting lots of their schoolmates. ANd without a real promise of that sort of perverse reward -- i.e., attaining significance through an infamous and shocking crime -- these other sociopaths would have found other outlets for their narcissistic and antisocial ambitions.

I don't expect the media to change anytime soon. But we can all do our part on an individual level to stop mass shootings. We can (1) let the media know we won't be watching or reading their coverage of the sordid lives and delusional fantasies of these mass shooters, (2) follow through and actually stop watching and reading news stories that provide these mass shooters the kind of individual attention that they were really seeking, and (3) refuse to discuss or even consider the identifying characteristics of these young sociopaths. If we refuse to give them the attention they want, then we can put an end to the trend of mass shootings.

Additional Articles and Videos about How to Stop Mass Shootings

For additional articles on how to stop mass shootings, check out The Atlantic, "The Media Needs to Stop Inspiring Copycat Murders: Here's How," by Zeynep Tufekci, and The New Yorker, "Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On," by Malcolm Gladwell. Also, check out the Gun Control Arguments Facebook page at

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