On Sunday, after two souls were gunned down in Jacksonville, Florida during a Madden gaming tournament, I knew the shooter’s name. It wasn’t difficult to learn.
While I had to search out the names of the two victims, Elijah Clayton (21) and Taylor Robertson (27), I found the killer’s name trending on social media. It was splashed all over the headlines and sprang from the lips of reporters and pundits alike. Pictures of him were included and I saw the dead-eyed look of a young man with documented mental illness.
Unfortunately, it’s not if the next shooting tragedy will happen, it’s when. The America of simpler times is long gone. As I wrote earlier this year, something has changed.
When an older relative of mine was in high school in the 1950s, he would bring a loaded shotgun with him to school. His intention had nothing to do with terrorizing his fellow classmates and teachers. Instead, he stored the firearm in his locker so he could leave directly after school and go hunting before daylight faded. He was hardly alone in this practice. Yet neither he nor his peers went on a shooting rampage in their school cafeterias.
Yes, there has been an advancement in firearm capabilities, but that is not why innocent men, women, and children have been shot dead in churches, schools, cafeterias, movie theaters, shopping malls, and outdoor concerts. Guns are not why I can repeat places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, San Bernardino, Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and Parkland with an almost instant recognition of the events surrounding each massacre of the innocents. We live in a sin-sick world and the penchant for aggression by way of violent, gun-related crime seems to be on the rise.
On August 26th, a selfish and unstable individual, angry at his earlier loss while playing video games, opened fire on unsuspecting victims. Apart from being violent and criminal, it was the action of a depraved, spoiled, entitled mind who could not handle when things didn’t go his way. The least I can do is never make mention of his identity when he so forcefully took away the individuality of Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson, young men who had done nothing wrong.
I used to dismiss the idea that we shouldn’t repeat a shooter’s name. I used to scoff at the very thought of it as nothing more than an emotional response to reality. But I’ve come completely around.
After the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting on November 5, 2017, left twenty-six people dead, another public plea was made. (Emphasis included.)
One group of academics and law enforcement officials has a suggestion beyond gun control and mental health that they say could prevent the “contagion” effect and deny mass killers the attention some of them seek: They’re asking the media to stop using the shooters’ names or pictures.
By not using pictures of mass killers or their names, the media could deprive future would-be killers from seeking the same fame, cut down on the copycat or contagion effect, and reduce “competition” among killers to maximize the death toll, proponents say. In doing so, that could reduce mass killings.
Some mass killers are, by their own testimony, inspired and influenced by others. The Sandy Hook shooter, for example, was keenly interested in other school shooters, Lankford says.
A “clear example of the contagion and copycat effects” occurred in 2015, Lankford and Eric Madfis of the University of Washington Tacoma write in an article in American Behavioral Scientist.
“There’s hard evidence that says, well, a mass killer got more attention than Kim Kardashian this month, and you know how many people are influenced by Kim Kardashian,” Lankford says. “So it’s not surprising that a tiny, tiny percentage of people with significant problems would be influenced by that mass killer.”
Of course, not saying the names of shooters will not entirely eliminate mass shootings. We’re well aware that they’ll continue. However, if the obvious lack of notoriety induces an individual to keep from committing a crime, or causes them to pause long enough that a person in their life notices a warning sign, then wouldn’t it be worth it? I’d say so.
We live in a social media age where interactions and worth are often based on how much attention someone receives, whether good or bad. No press is bad press, right? Knowledge that the perpetrator of a horrific deed will be in the spotlight briefly and in some ways, eternally, must be a final catalyst in determining whether some offenders finally go through with their barbaric fantasies.
Meanwhile, as news outlets repeat a killer’s name over and over, the victims, whose lives are worth infinitely more than their violent ends, are forgotten. They become only part of the story. They morph into useful accessories that aid in the discussion, and not much more. We see them briefly on the victim lists but fail to consider the years, hours, and minutes of uninterrupted humanity before that time.
They deserve more than I’ve been giving them. And the killers? They deserve much, much less.
For these and other reasons, I’ll not be mentioning the name of the Jacksonville shooter. And in the future, I’ll not be repeating the names of any other person who commits such a violent crime. If I can keep from assisting in their lamentable rise to fame, I’ll do it. Even if this tactic has not much of any discernable effect, I’ll stay the course.
Elijah Clayton, Taylor Robertson, and hundreds of other precious human beings deserve my attention.