Firearms / Media

Mass Killers: Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, But Report Everything Else

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”:

  1. Don’t name the perpetrator.
  2. Don’t use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator.
  3. Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators.
  4. 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:

  1. Don’t name the
  2. Don’t use photos or likenesses of the
  3. Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past
  4. 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.

Sincerely,

  1. Richard Aborn, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City
  2. Thomas Abt, Harvard University
  3. Michael Adorjan, University of Calgary
  4. Tammi Arford, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
  5. Hasan Arslan, Pace University
  6. Rachel Bandy, Simpson College (fmr.)
  7. Denise L. Bissler, Randolph-Macon College
  8. Ragnhild Bjørnebekk, Norwegian Police University College
  9. Hester Brink, Rotterdam Police Force, Netherlands
  10. Alan Bruce, Quinnipiac University
  11. Amanda Bunting, University of Kentucky
  12. George Burruss, University of South Florida
  13. Nicholas Carleton, University of Regina
  14. Erin Casey, University of Washington, Tacoma
  15. Tammy L. Castle, James Madison University
  16. James Clemente, Federal Bureau of Investigation (ret.)
  17. Jeffrey Cohen, University of Washington, Tacoma
  18. Kiersten Compofelice-Taylor, Sam Houston State University
  19. Mark Coulson, Middlesex University London
  20. Stephanie S. Covington, Center for Gender and Justice
  21. Michael J. Coyle, California State University, Chico
  22. Hugh Curtis, Simon Fraser University
  23. Sarah Daly, St. Vincent College
  24. Steve Daniels, Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators
  25. Joseph De Angelis, University of Idaho
  26. Josephine DeCarlo, California University of Pennsylvania
  27. James Densley, Metropolitan State University
  28. JoAnne DeRouen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  29. James Dudley, San Francisco State University
  30. Laura Dugan, University of Maryland
  31. Don Dutton, University of British Columbia
  32. Chantal Fahmy, Arizona State University
  33. James Fallon, University of California, Irvine
  34. Michael Fitzpatrick, New York State Courts
  35. Jerry Flores, University of Toronto
  36. Hank Fradella, Arizona State University
  37. Erika Gebo, Suffolk University
  38. Jungyun Gill, Stonehill College
  39. Lelia Green, Edith Cowan University
  40. Glynn Greensmith, Curtin University
  41. Xavier L. Guadalupe-Diaz, Framingham State University
  42. Elizabeth Gurian, Norwich University
  43. Janelle Hawes, University of Washington, Tacoma
  44. Josh A. Hendrix, RTI International
  45. Alex M. Holsinger, University of Missouri–Kansas City
  46. Kristi Holsinger, University of Missouri–Kansas City
  47. Keith Humphreys, Stanford University
  48. Gregory Hunt, American University
  49. David Hureau, University at Albany–SUNY
  50. Darrell D. Irwin, Central China Normal University
  51. Michael J. Jenkins, University of Scranton
  52. Robert Jenkot, Coastal Carolina University
  53. Ida Johnson, University of Alabama
  54. Jennifer Johnston, Western New Mexico University
  55. Stephanie C. Kane, Indiana University
  56. David Kennedy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  57. Deniese Kennedy-Kollar, Molloy College
  58. Michael Kimmel, Stony Brook University
  59. Gerd Ferdinand Kirchhoff, Jindal Global University
  60. Gary Kleck, Florida State University
  61. Mark Kleiman, New York University
  62. James L. Knoll, SUNY Upstate Medical University
  63. Lisa A. Kort-Butler, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  64. Jonathan Kremser, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
  65. Susan M. Kunkle, Kent State University
  66. Peter Langman, School Info
  67. Adam Lankford, University of Alabama
  68. Matthew J. Larson, Wayne State University
  69. Jody L. Lay, Terrell Police Department
  70. Jack Levin, Northeastern University
  71. Bronwen Lichtenstein, University of Alabama
  72. Rolf Loeber, University of Pittsburgh
  73. Matt Logan, HALO Forensic Behavioral Specialists
  74. Stephanie Maass, Norwich University
  75. Eric Madfis, University of Washington, Tacoma
  76. Edward Maguire, Arizona State University
  77. William Malone, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (ret.)
  78. Jeff Mathwig, Center for Homicide Research
  79. Adam K. Matz, University of North Dakota
  80. James N. Meindl, University of Memphis
  81. Danielle McDonald, Northern Kentucky University
  82. Rochelle McGee-Cobbs, Mississippi Valley State University
  83. Dustin Melbardis, Texas State University
  84. Reid Meloy, University of California San Diego
  85. William Modzeleski, U.S. Department of Education (ret.)
  86. Patricia Morris, California State University, Sacramento
  87. Jennifer L. Murray, Indiana State University
  88. Glenn Muschert, Miami University
  89. Chrystie Myketiak, University of Brighton
  90. Katherine Newman, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  91. Sarah Nicksa, Widener University
  92. Tanya Nieri, University of California, Riverside
  93. Matt Nobles, University of Central Florida
  94. Miriam Northcutt Bohmert, Indiana University
  95. Atte Oksanen, University of Tampere, Finland
  96. Ihekwoaba D. Onwudiwe, Texas Southern University
  97. Jeffery R. Osborne, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  98. John L. Padgett, Psychosocial Dynamics, LLC
  99. Tom Pakkanen, Åbo Akademi University
  100. Nicholas L. Parsons, Eastern Connecticut State University
  101. William Phelps, Atypical Homicide Research Group
  102. Nickie Phillips, St. Francis College
  103. Steven Pinker, Harvard University
  104. Michael Pittaro, American Military University
  105. Ariane Prohaska, University of Alabama
  106. Lisa Rapp-McCall, Saint Leo University
  107. Jerry Ratcliffe, Temple University
  108. Wendy C. Regoeczi, Cleveland State University
  109. Sasha Reid, University of Toronto
  110. Phillip Resnick, Case Western Reserve University
  111. Rose Ricciardelli, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  112. Barrie J. Ritter, Ritter Homicide Research
  113. Melinda R. Roberts, University of Southern Indiana
  114. Frank J. Robertz, Fachhochschule der Polizei Brandenburg
  115. Ann Marie Rocheleau, Stonehill College
  116. Michael Rocque, Bates College
  117. Forrest R. Rodgers, Salem State University
  118. Raquel Rosés, ETH Zürich
  119. Jeffrey Ian Ross, University of Baltimore
  120. Kim Rossmo, Texas State University
  121. Randolph Roth, Ohio State University
  122. Stephanie Ryon, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  123. Mark E. Safarik, Forensic Behavioral Services
  124. Christine Sarteschi, Chatham University
  125. Laurie Schaffner, University of Illinois at Chicago
  126. Jaclyn Schildkraut, State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego
  127. Hannah Scott, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  128. Theresa A. Severance, Eastern Connecticut State University
  129. Wayne Shelley, Sitting Bull College
  130. Clete Snell, University of Houston-Downtown
  131. Carol Stabile, University of Oregon
  132. Jessica Stern, Boston University
  133. Charles B. Strozier, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  134. Lucia Summers Rodriguez, Texas State University
  135. Melanie A. Taylor, University of Nevada Reno
  136. Danielle Tscherne, University of Toledo
  137. Anthony Vander Horst, Kent State University
  138. Taryn VanderPyl, Pacific University
  139. Miika Vuori, Kela – Research Department
  140. Bryce Westlake, San Jose State University
  141. Stephanie A. Whitus, Aurora University
  142. Julie B. Wiest, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
  143. Jimmy Williams, University of Alabama
  144. Nicholas H. Wolfinger, University of Utah
  145. Enzo Yaksic, Atypical Homicide Research Group
  146. David Yamane, Wake Forest University
  147. Adam Zwickle, Michigan State University
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11 thoughts on “Mass Killers: Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, But Report Everything Else

  1. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

    • 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.

      Liked by 2 people

    • 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.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 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…”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Agree 100%.
    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.

    Liked by 2 people

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