A while back, Professor Adam Lankford (Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Alabama) sent me an open letter to the media and asked if I would sign my name to it. I, along with 146 other scholars, agreed.
The letter (reprinted in full below) asks the media “to take a principled stand in your future coverage of mass killers that could potentially save lives”:
- Don’t name the perpetrator.
- Don’t use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator.
- Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators.
- Report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired.
The release of this letter after the Las Vegas massacre is timely, but it also follows the publication of a paper by Lankford and Eric Madfis (University of Washington-Tacoma) in the American Behavioral Scientist explaining the scholarly basis for the letter.
Here is some coverage of the letter in the media so far:
Full text of the letter and signatories:
October 2, 2017
Dear Members of the Media,
We are scholars, professors, and law enforcement professionals who have collectively studied mass shooters, school shooters, workplace shooters, active shooters, mass murderers, terrorists, and other perpetrators of crime.
We strongly urge you to take a principled stand in your future coverage of mass killers that could potentially save lives:
- Don’t name the
- Don’t use photos or likenesses of the
- Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past
- Report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as
We agree—and believe you will as well—that the particular sequence of letters that make up offenders’ names, and the particular configuration of bones, cartilage, and flesh that make up offenders’ faces are among the least newsworthy details about them. That information itself tells us nothing, and has no inherent value. However, by reporting everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired, you can continue to fulfill your responsibility to the public.
As scholars, professors, and law enforcement professionals, we do not agree on everything. Some of us believe that by denying mass shooters fame, we would deter some future fame-seekers from attacking. Some of us believe that by no longer creating de facto celebrities out of killers, we would reduce contagion and copycat effects. Some of us believe that by no longer rewarding the deadliest offenders with the most personal attention, we would reduce the competition among them to maximize victim fatalities.
However, all of us agree that it is important to stop giving fame-seeking mass shooters the personal attention they want. This sentiment has already been echoed by many members of the United States government, the law enforcement community, and the media itself.
We recognize that there are exceptional cases, such as during the search for an escaped suspect, when the publication of that individual’s name and image may be temporarily necessary. However, we believe that in the vast majority of cases, the media can easily adhere to the guidelines stated above.
There is already precedent for this approach: the media typically does not broadcast fans who run on the field during professional sporting events, does not publish the names of sexual assault victims, and does not publish the names of underage mass shooters who attack in Canada, where such information is already kept confidential.
We hope that as members of the media, you are ready to take a stand, adopt the measures listed above, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. The costs would be minimal, and the benefit is that you could literally save lives.
- Richard Aborn, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City
- Thomas Abt, Harvard University
- Michael Adorjan, University of Calgary
- Tammi Arford, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
- Hasan Arslan, Pace University
- Rachel Bandy, Simpson College (fmr.)
- Denise L. Bissler, Randolph-Macon College
- Ragnhild Bjørnebekk, Norwegian Police University College
- Hester Brink, Rotterdam Police Force, Netherlands
- Alan Bruce, Quinnipiac University
- Amanda Bunting, University of Kentucky
- George Burruss, University of South Florida
- Nicholas Carleton, University of Regina
- Erin Casey, University of Washington, Tacoma
- Tammy L. Castle, James Madison University
- James Clemente, Federal Bureau of Investigation (ret.)
- Jeffrey Cohen, University of Washington, Tacoma
- Kiersten Compofelice-Taylor, Sam Houston State University
- Mark Coulson, Middlesex University London
- Stephanie S. Covington, Center for Gender and Justice
- Michael J. Coyle, California State University, Chico
- Hugh Curtis, Simon Fraser University
- Sarah Daly, St. Vincent College
- Steve Daniels, Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators
- Joseph De Angelis, University of Idaho
- Josephine DeCarlo, California University of Pennsylvania
- James Densley, Metropolitan State University
- JoAnne DeRouen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- James Dudley, San Francisco State University
- Laura Dugan, University of Maryland
- Don Dutton, University of British Columbia
- Chantal Fahmy, Arizona State University
- James Fallon, University of California, Irvine
- Michael Fitzpatrick, New York State Courts
- Jerry Flores, University of Toronto
- Hank Fradella, Arizona State University
- Erika Gebo, Suffolk University
- Jungyun Gill, Stonehill College
- Lelia Green, Edith Cowan University
- Glynn Greensmith, Curtin University
- Xavier L. Guadalupe-Diaz, Framingham State University
- Elizabeth Gurian, Norwich University
- Janelle Hawes, University of Washington, Tacoma
- Josh A. Hendrix, RTI International
- Alex M. Holsinger, University of Missouri–Kansas City
- Kristi Holsinger, University of Missouri–Kansas City
- Keith Humphreys, Stanford University
- Gregory Hunt, American University
- David Hureau, University at Albany–SUNY
- Darrell D. Irwin, Central China Normal University
- Michael J. Jenkins, University of Scranton
- Robert Jenkot, Coastal Carolina University
- Ida Johnson, University of Alabama
- Jennifer Johnston, Western New Mexico University
- Stephanie C. Kane, Indiana University
- David Kennedy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Deniese Kennedy-Kollar, Molloy College
- Michael Kimmel, Stony Brook University
- Gerd Ferdinand Kirchhoff, Jindal Global University
- Gary Kleck, Florida State University
- Mark Kleiman, New York University
- James L. Knoll, SUNY Upstate Medical University
- Lisa A. Kort-Butler, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
- Jonathan Kremser, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
- Susan M. Kunkle, Kent State University
- Peter Langman, School Info
- Adam Lankford, University of Alabama
- Matthew J. Larson, Wayne State University
- Jody L. Lay, Terrell Police Department
- Jack Levin, Northeastern University
- Bronwen Lichtenstein, University of Alabama
- Rolf Loeber, University of Pittsburgh
- Matt Logan, HALO Forensic Behavioral Specialists
- Stephanie Maass, Norwich University
- Eric Madfis, University of Washington, Tacoma
- Edward Maguire, Arizona State University
- William Malone, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (ret.)
- Jeff Mathwig, Center for Homicide Research
- Adam K. Matz, University of North Dakota
- James N. Meindl, University of Memphis
- Danielle McDonald, Northern Kentucky University
- Rochelle McGee-Cobbs, Mississippi Valley State University
- Dustin Melbardis, Texas State University
- Reid Meloy, University of California San Diego
- William Modzeleski, U.S. Department of Education (ret.)
- Patricia Morris, California State University, Sacramento
- Jennifer L. Murray, Indiana State University
- Glenn Muschert, Miami University
- Chrystie Myketiak, University of Brighton
- Katherine Newman, University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Sarah Nicksa, Widener University
- Tanya Nieri, University of California, Riverside
- Matt Nobles, University of Central Florida
- Miriam Northcutt Bohmert, Indiana University
- Atte Oksanen, University of Tampere, Finland
- Ihekwoaba D. Onwudiwe, Texas Southern University
- Jeffery R. Osborne, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- John L. Padgett, Psychosocial Dynamics, LLC
- Tom Pakkanen, Åbo Akademi University
- Nicholas L. Parsons, Eastern Connecticut State University
- William Phelps, Atypical Homicide Research Group
- Nickie Phillips, St. Francis College
- Steven Pinker, Harvard University
- Michael Pittaro, American Military University
- Ariane Prohaska, University of Alabama
- Lisa Rapp-McCall, Saint Leo University
- Jerry Ratcliffe, Temple University
- Wendy C. Regoeczi, Cleveland State University
- Sasha Reid, University of Toronto
- Phillip Resnick, Case Western Reserve University
- Rose Ricciardelli, Memorial University of Newfoundland
- Barrie J. Ritter, Ritter Homicide Research
- Melinda R. Roberts, University of Southern Indiana
- Frank J. Robertz, Fachhochschule der Polizei Brandenburg
- Ann Marie Rocheleau, Stonehill College
- Michael Rocque, Bates College
- Forrest R. Rodgers, Salem State University
- Raquel Rosés, ETH Zürich
- Jeffrey Ian Ross, University of Baltimore
- Kim Rossmo, Texas State University
- Randolph Roth, Ohio State University
- Stephanie Ryon, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
- Mark E. Safarik, Forensic Behavioral Services
- Christine Sarteschi, Chatham University
- Laurie Schaffner, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Jaclyn Schildkraut, State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego
- Hannah Scott, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
- Theresa A. Severance, Eastern Connecticut State University
- Wayne Shelley, Sitting Bull College
- Clete Snell, University of Houston-Downtown
- Carol Stabile, University of Oregon
- Jessica Stern, Boston University
- Charles B. Strozier, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Lucia Summers Rodriguez, Texas State University
- Melanie A. Taylor, University of Nevada Reno
- Danielle Tscherne, University of Toledo
- Anthony Vander Horst, Kent State University
- Taryn VanderPyl, Pacific University
- Miika Vuori, Kela – Research Department
- Bryce Westlake, San Jose State University
- Stephanie A. Whitus, Aurora University
- Julie B. Wiest, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- Jimmy Williams, University of Alabama
- Nicholas H. Wolfinger, University of Utah
- Enzo Yaksic, Atypical Homicide Research Group
- David Yamane, Wake Forest University
- Adam Zwickle, Michigan State University
Reblogged this on and commented:
And please, stop calling shooters “snipers”. Snipers are trained professionals. Most of the time, shooters are merely “kooks with a rifle”, generally a .22LR because they cannot hit with any other caliber as they are unskilled shooters.
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Indeed, this guy was more like Col. Dyer’s machine gunner, ordered to shoot fish in a barrel at Jallianwala Bagh, which is what I thought of on reading about this Monday. He was no sniper. Charles Whitman was closer to what one would call a sniper and had the USMC training, IIRC.
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Correction. Dyer couldn’t get the machine guns to bear on the victims as they were on armored cars and unavailable.
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If you consider the .223/5.56mm as a “.22” rifle, yes. But it is the most common arm used in these sorts of shootings and is also the current, standard NATO combat calilber.
True snipers are, indeed, trained. But in the public mind, anyone who shoots from a high, usually concealed spot is a sniper. The Texas tower shooter actually sniped his targets, and this guy pretty much “sprayed and prayed” as the saying goes.
The use of rifles equipped with “bump-fire” or “slide-fire” stocks obviates real aimed fire – unless they are used in the semi-=auto setting. And if they are used this way, they are even less useful, serving no purpose. I would say a device like this in the hands of a skilled shooter firing short, controlled bursts – as we were taught to use any FA weapon – could actually achieve aimed fire.
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One quibble, most mass shootings involve primarily handguns. Other than that no quibbles.
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Damnatio memoriae, correct?
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Reblogged this on Windage and Elucidation and commented:
If only the media would listen.
If they must be referred to even when unnamed, by anything other than location, don’t give them “cool” or “scary” nicknames, be actively insulting and derogatory. They aren’t around to be offended and I really don’t care about their family’s feelings.
ex. “The Las Vegas pitiful loser/joke of a man/coward in question…”
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For some time now – beginning, I think, with Newtown – I have not used the names of the shooters, identifying them by the location of their crimes. I do not want, by my words, to add to whatever notoriety they will get from the media. I applaud this open letter and agree with it completely.
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Col.Dave Grossman talks about this as well. Don’t give the next potential mass killer motivation to become famous in the only way available to him.
Leave him as anonymous and irrelevant as his life’s accomplishments deserve.
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While I also agree completely were up against “If it bleeds it leads.” and that goes back a long ways in print journalism.
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