It’s Not that Big a Story if No One Died
In September of this year, a 14-year-old boy in South Carolina killed his father at home, then went to a nearby elementary school and shot two boys and a teacher with a handgun.
A news reporter seeking expert commentary for an on-air report, later cancelled a selected expert’s appearance telling that expert that “It’s not that big a story, no one died.”
Maybe that should be changed to “It’s not that big a story, it wasn’t my child.”
We wonder if the next day, the reporter thought her original decision shortsighted, as a victim did die of their injuries. Suddenly and distastefully, it became a story worthy of report and analysis by so many of her peers.
“If it Bleeds, It Leads”
Jacob Hall, the 6-year-old boy who was critically wounded in the school shooting, was struck by a bullet in a main artery in his leg, causing him a major brain injury due to the loss of blood. Jacob died just days after the shooter opened fire on the school playground.
Johnny Bridges, Jacob’s uncle, said the family is pushing for the establishment of “Jacob’s Law” which would require armed officers after every South Carolina school.
No lawmakers are currently attached to “Jacob’s Law.”
District 10 Rep. Joshua Putnam wants to propose legislation allowing select teachers to be trained to carry weapons by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division or another law enforcement agency.
He said Jacob’s Law is a good idea and “in a perfect world, it would be great,” but believes current state limitations and budget restrictions don’t make it feasible. Putnam plans to submit his bill in December.
Many states are wrestling with the wisdom of allowing teachers and faculty to carry guns. The concept is not new. Firestorm CEO Harry Rhulen: “Yes, it can be done, but it can only be done with a tremendous amount of discipline, training, planning and education.”
Funding armed professionals and funding the arming of teachers are two radically different initiatives.
The New York City Police Department conducted a study of all the armed intruder encounters that they have experienced. The trained and skilled NYPD officers are only successful at hitting their targets 18 percent of the time. “Eighty-two percent of the bullets go somewhere other than into their intended target.” Again, these are trained police officers who have gone through rigorous firearm and psychological counseling sessions. They’re not teachers. They are professionals specifically trained to deal with high-intensity and stressful situations.
If police officers don’t hit their target 80 percent of the time, just imagine teachers, who are trained in a completely different field, having control over a firearm in a shootout.
“The psychology of a teacher is that they’re going to hesitate. They’re going to try and mediate a situation before they draw their gun. A police officer is going to draw their gun and then try to mediate. The officer is going to make sure that if action is called for, they are at the ready. The number of accidents would increase if teachers were armed because there are firearms in a school. The number of muscle-memory decisions that must be made during an active shooter or deadly weapon incident require intensive, repetitive training.” Harry Rhulen, CEO Firestorm
Similar to schools being drug-free zones, Firestorm believes they also should be gun-free zones. Everyone needs to understand this. Instead of encouraging teachers to “pack heat,” the approach Firestorm takes is the PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.® methodology.
Schools that are jumping into the armed teacher approach are skipping the PREDICT.PLAN. stage. You must predict the vulnerability and risks and plan around them. The goal of Firestorm is to prevent a gun from ever entering a school. Because once there’s a gun in a school, you’re too late.
In place of using funds to train employees with firearms, use that money to train students and teachers about predicting a potential crisis. School shootings are a problem of behavior and behavioral risk. They need to be addressed in that way.
The aim of every school should be to create a culture where safety from violence is a common goal of both students and staff. To achieve such a culture, warning signs must be recognized and understood; everyone must know how to report behaviors of concern; there must be procedures in place to investigate when there are concerns, and trained staff must know when to conduct a behavioral risk assessment and possess the necessary resources to do so. To make your school and the students and staff in it safer, your program must focus on preventing the act of violence in the first instance.
The Best Headline is No Headline
In addition to the debate on allowing firearms on school property, there is the continuing dialogue related to media sensationalism of like-incidents.
As evidence mounts that some rampage shooters kill for fame, traditional and social media should redefine the difference between informing the masses and sensationalizing a crisis.
After the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon this past October of 2015, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin refused to name the campus shooter, saying, “I will not give him the credit he probably sought.”
“In this world of social media, where everything’s at your fingertips, if journalists don’t get it to us, we’ll find it somewhere else. There’s this fear in the community of journalism that the man on the street will get the story before they do.”
Tamyra Pierce, Mass Communication professor at California State University, Fresno to Deseret News
As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in an October 2015 article for The New Yorker, excessive exposure to information about shooters and their crimes may not only be triggering troubled people to act out, but possibly priming young minds to respond to life’s challenges with violence as well. In a world where violence is normalized in young minds and is examined exhaustively under the media’s microscope, potential shooters don’t need to be mentally ill to think of a public shooting as a quick, acceptable path to fame.
“The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse,” Gladwell wrote. “It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”
We know that highly publicized stories of violent and dangerous behavior influences copycat incidents.
Maybe we don’t have to worry about that if no one actually dies as a result, because then, it’s not really news, is it? Or at least not according to the reporter we mentioned at the top of this article.
Let’s use common sense and compassion, and let’s treat every incident as if our own loved ones were involved. While the media’s thirst for sensationalism is part of the problem, our own complacency allows it to exist.
“The usual rationalization that violence delivers the goods – it “gives the audience what it wants” – is disingenuous. As the trade knows well and as we shall see, violence as such is not highly rated. That means that it coasts on viewer inertia, not selection.”
George Gerbner, PhD (1919 – 2005), The World & I; A Chronicle of Our Changing Era, July, 1994