Terrified: Reporting on School Shootings

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, an integral part of Reporting on Traumatic Events is following one news topic during the entire semester. Mine happens to be “shootings in a public place with multiple victims,” excluding terrorist attacks. That leaves school shootings and church shootings. Lucky me.

In order to follow this topic, my professor asked us to set up Google Alerts on our assigned topic (others included suicide, bullying with violent consequences, landslides, flooding, etc.). So now, every day, I get two emails a day listing the top news stories for school and church shootings around the world.

My inbox is not a happy place.

In the 14 months since the Newtown shooting, there have been 44 shootings in schools. These include fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings. 49 percent had at least one fatality, totaling 28 deaths.

That’s one shooting every 10 days. According to ThinkProgress’ math in a Jan. 23 article, there was a shooting every other school day in the first two weeks of the spring semester.

From "Analysis of School Shootings," published by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns
From “Analysis of School Shootings,” published by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns

In mid-January at a middle school in Roswell, N.M., a seventh-grader opened fire on his classmates in the school’s gym, critically injuring two students.

A seventh-grader. Younger than my little brother.

I don’t understand.

I’ve been skipping out on posting about my news topic for weeks (sorry, Katherine) for that exact reason: I don’t understand it.

I don’t want to destroy every privately owned gun in America. I just want it to be harder for seventh graders to get theirs hands on one. I want desperation because of cruelty in schools to lead to counseling and kindness, not a massacre. I want to never, ever, ever write a school shooting headline.

If I was a breaking news reporter, I would be horrified to go on the scene of a shooting. How do you objectively report on an issue you have such strong political opinions about? How do you represent the overwhelming grief of a parent who has lost a child? How do you tell the stories that need to be told in order to elicit policy changes without intruding on a community enduring a tragedy?

I am hopeful, but I don’t know if any training can adequately prepare a journalist to write about a school shooting. They are a tragedy unlike almost any other, and I feel as though even the best laid plans for dealing with trauma will fall flat when up against children shot in schools.

Here’s to hoping I never have to cover one because they stop happening, not because I am too terrified to tell stories of sadness.

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18 thoughts on “Terrified: Reporting on School Shootings

  1. Do you count things like shootings at bars or restaurants?
    Dallas had a shooting last week where 1 was killed and 6 injured. Of course it was gang related and may not fit the typical media narrative about ‘mass shootings’.

    I just want it to be harder for seventh graders to get theirs hands on one.

    I would love to hear about any effective means of doing so. In most states it is already against the law to make a firearm readily accessible to a minor. Common sense dictates that firearms be kept from children.
    Yet year after year we have neglectful parent or criminal adults that leave firearms available for children. How do you change people?

    1. Those kinds of shootings could fall into my category, yes. I’m pretty sure that gang violence is also included under the mass shooting umbrella.

      I don’t know the answer to that policy question. With every shooting and death, I keep thinking “This will be the last straw. This is going to change things.” It never does. I don’t know what policy makers and the public at large need to see and endure in order to finally change.

      1. I don’t know what policy makers and the public at large need to see and endure in order to finally change.

        This is what I really don’t understand. There is such an incredibly small subset of the people doing these types of shootings; heck doing any type of violent crime. Yet you expect someone like me who has never thought of committing such an heinous crime to change?

        Or do you expect us to rise up, march out and find the people who might one day maybe, could conceivably, be a part of such an atrocity and do something to them?

        Just what can we do to people before they commit such a crime?

        This isn’t a ‘gun issue’ this is an issue of evil. We can call it various names and some of them might even be accurate (which makes the problem worse in some regards) like ‘mental illness’ or crime’ or alienation; but in the heart of the matter is evil — the deliberate attempt to murder others. An issue as old as Cain and Abel — the original ‘assault weapon -a rock’.

        I was sincere in my question — what exactly do to change people ?

  2. My sister is a paramedic, and she and I had a similar conversation about Newtown from her point of view as a first responder having to go in. I never considered that someone would have to clean that God-forsaken classroom up. I suppose reporting on it would bring in a whole different set of conflicts that no class could prepare you for.

    1. The class I’m currently in is supposed to give a sort of framework to fall back on when things get scary, but I just can’t imagine ever feeling prepared to report on something like Newtown. It would be even worse for paramedics, though, because they don’t exactly have a choice. They have to go in to the scene. Journalists can at least give the situation a little breathing room.

      1. I think we all have situations in our jobs that require prep for the unthinkable. I’m a high school teacher, and we had a “shooter” drill. It was so surreal, and yet I’d already planned something in that event anyway. It’s scary what’s normal now, huh?

  3. In a way, I can totally see a seventh grader shooting a gun at school. Through my own experiences and through discussion with my friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that middle schoolers are the cruelest. They are smart enough to come up with horrible things to do to people but not smart enough to consider the long-term ramifications of their actions. Every horror story I have about my childhood involves middle school bullies.

    I don’t really think this is a discussion about guns at all. What we should really be asking is why young children feel the need to be violent at all. It starts before the gun is in their hand. What happens before the decide to shoot up a school that sets them up for thinking that is a fine idea?

    1. I have long stood by the fact that middle school is the worst idea. “Let’s put everyone going through life-altering hormonal changes and lock them in the same building for eight hours every day!”

      I think that’s what so hard about the school shooting epidemic: it has so many causes. Everything from bullying to movies to video games to curiosity to books to anything else you can imagine. Each factor compounds on the next and creates a horrible opportunity for violence.

      1. “Everything from bullying to movies to video games to curiosity to books to anything else you can imagine.”

        I have to disagree with this whole list. I mean, sure those things show violence, but certainly it takes more. For example, a parent should be there to teach their child that the things happening in the movie would not be appropriate in real life. I don’t think it’s so much about cultural influences as it is about children being emotionally pushed to the edge until they snap, which is why mental illness is a part of the discussion.

      2. I see your point. There are so many kids, though, who see do violent things and then say “I was trying to be like (XYZ).” Even with parents’ best intentions, the kind of violence shown on TV and videos games — violence with no lasting consequences, where you just start over from your last save — permeates our society in a nearly uncontrollable way.

        Mental illness is definitely part of the discussion. The current public school system is not built for kids to succeed; it’s built for ratings.

      3. Maybe this is because I’m a gamer, but I have to disagree again. I know plenty of people who play games and I remember the kids in grade school who we all talked about bringing a gun to school. The two were never connected. There is no accepted scientific theory that connects video games to violence. It’s possible that a child who already has some kind of mental illness may be adversely effected negatively by games, but that’s it.

        Have you looked into the numbers if school shootings as an average over the years? I’ve heard about all the shootings this year, but I’ve also heard the yearly number of school shootings has been going down over the years. We’re just reporting on the cases more often now.

      4. I’m not a gamer, so maybe I’m missing that perspective. I can see your point, but I don’t know if I agree completely. I have heard the language my brother uses when he plays violent video games, and it kind of makes me nervous about the effect on young minds.

      5. Cussing is hardly equal to violence. I give you that gamers often cuss while playing games. But then, studies have found that people who cuss more tend to be more honest. This is correlation, not causation, so whose to say why that is. Personally, I find cussing at games to be a great stress relief. Either way, cussing is hardly equal to shooting up a school.

  4. I lived in America for 18 months and never understood the gun culture. Its heartbreaking stories like yours that stopped me ever falling in love with America, its an amazing country, I have massive respect for the USA. It just has one fault, which happens to be the 2nd amendment in my personal opinion.

  5. Interesting coincidence; a blogger I know wrote about that image being used.

    http://www.weerdworld.com/2014/images-of-the-antis-twofer-2/

    But their statistics are not what they seem. Included in the numbers are suicides. Also included are late night shootings taking place in school parking lots, on their grounds or even off school property, often involving gangs. As “shootings,” they also include any incident where shots were fired, even when nobody was injured.

    And in the mean time, the ignore shootings in bars (illegal to carry a firearm in Texas) where 1 person was killed and another 4 injured.
    http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/02/17/5575730/shooting-victim-dies-in-hospital.html

    This is a different shooting then the one I earlier referenced. Are your google alerts set up for this type of article?

    And I would be interested in knowing what you plan to compare the shooting deaths and injuries to — car collisions, drownings, etc.

    I see very few news articles that put the numbers in context – firearm related homicides aren’t even in the top 10 causes of death. Yet the media fear mongers more about shootings using rifles than hands and feet — which are used more than rifles in homicides.

    1. I don’t think that shootings that happen in school parking lots shouldn’t be discounted — I think they are just as much of a problem as all other kinds of shootings.
      I don’t have bar shootings set up in my Google Alerts because my professor and I thought it would be best to focus on school and church shootings. It is not a statement against other kinds of shooting, but a way to simplify my class assignment.

      In reference to your previous comment, I am not specifically talking about trained adults with licensed firearms. I am talking about kids who manage to get their hands on guns and decide to take matters into their own hands. As I said in a response to another commenter: “I think that’s what so hard about the school shooting epidemic: it has so many causes. Everything from bullying to movies to video games to curiosity to books to anything else you can imagine. Each factor compounds on the next and creates a horrible opportunity for violence.” It is not unlocked firearms that cause school shootings, but a compounding of dozens of factors, each with its own set of ethical roadblocks.

      1. Define epidemic please?

        AS in more deaths than car collisions? Drowning deaths?
        All mass murder fatalities are a small fraction of the total number of firearm related homicides. School shootings are a smaller sub set of those.

        There were more homicides in Chicago in one year than several years of mass murder events. Why focus on such a small subset of the problem– unless it is to use the emotional aspect of “OMG, Kids are dying. We have to do something”.

        I have a major problem with this type of journalism; it is sensationalistic and at the same time trivializing a serious problem that needs attention.
        We could do more to reduce the fatalities by providing better access to mental health care, making it easier to involuntarily commit people (check out how many of the ‘school shooters’ had mental health issues).

        We could do more to reduce fatalities by increasing employment, reducing the dependence on government checks instead of two parent family, getting rid of the insane drug laws and the War on (Some) Drugs. But reporting on just “School Shootings” will never bring focus on the real issues.

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