American Elephants

Would There Still Be Terrorism and Mass Murder If There Was No TV? by The Elephant's Child

In Israel, serious people respond to serious threats.

When there is an act of senseless evil, like the murder of small children at Sandy Hook Elementary, or of blowing up a commuter train, or flying planes into the twin towers, how much of the planning and organizing the act is dependent on the renown that will come from international attention on television? Such acts seem to have been much more rare before there was television’s “in depth” coverage.

In the wake of a mass murder, it is natural to search for answers: ban guns, encourage more concealed-carry permits, open more psychiatric hospitals, end laws that make it difficult to commit people, send disturbed people for treatment, more police, more guards, more security, do something about the media, and so it goes.

We are now in the obligatory “ban the guns” phase. For some, a demand for drastic action seems a more noble response to the tragedy of others — than mere compassion. It is the do-something, I’m in charge, impulse. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a remarkable example of this kind of response. Unfortunately his position guarantees him access to a microphone.

The senseless shooting of small children seems somehow worse than anything else, but each tragedy calls up all previous mass shootings. Consulting Wikipedia is depressing, for they list the many kinds of mass murder, and there are many. Even school shootings have occurred all over the world, in many countries.

This article from Reason deserves your attention, an excerpt quotes journalist Lenore Skenazy who recalls that the deadliest school massacre in U.S.history took place in Michigan in 1927, when a disgruntled school-board official blew up 38 people including himself. She writes that the real difference between now and then is the immediacy of the media, which shrinks the distance between victims and the rest of us. It creates the conditions for an overreaction that will ultimately be little more than symbolic.

I expect we will now demand precautions on top of precautions. More guards. More security cameras. More supervision. We will fear more for our kids and let go of them even more reluctantly. Every time we wonder if they can be safe beyond our arms, these shootings will swim into focus.

Will this new layer of fear and security make our children any safer? Probably not, but for a reassuring reason: A tragedy like this is so rare, our kids are already safe. Not perfectly safe. No one ever is. But safe.

That’s a truth the folks in 1928 America understood. We just don’t feel that way now.

Matt Lewis rounds up some of the more execrable media reactions and irresponsible reporting. This wouldn’t be a bad set of guidelines for journalists in what not to do. As we have all noticed, basic manners have been victim of the cultural decline.

At the Volokh Conspiracy, the author responds to the question if civilians armed with guns ever capture, kill or otherwise stop mass shooters? Well, yes they do. And Doug Ross, from whom I borrowed the picture at the top, also contributed this simple, fairly clear, comment. He has a number of excellent posts on the murders and reactions.


Mass murders have taken place all over the world, in many times and many circumstances. We have such compassion for the families, for we know it could have been us. President Obama has announced that “We have to change.” We? The picture of the president hugging the woman who lost everything in the Sandy storm surge is still up on the White House website. It was an especially good photo-op. The help from FEMA that the president promised would come immediately, has of course, never happened.

There will still be mass murder and terrorism, with TV coverage or not. Mayor Bloomberg has already drummed up a bunch of liberal gun-banners to march on the National Rifle Association. Does he have no trusted confidant who can tell him that he’s making a fool of himself again?

Whatever our instant impulses are, they are probably the wrong thing to do. Instant impulses, the “do-something” syndrome, is not the path to averting tragedy.

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