After a gunman killed nine people Thursday at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, conservatives adopted an idea that was previously the territory of gun control activists: not naming the perpetrators of mass shootings.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, who has been a vocal opponent of gun control and is in charge of investigating the massacre, took that stand in a Thursday press conference.
“I will not name the shooter,” Hanlin said. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.”
Since then, many news outlets have reported that the gunman is Chris Harper Mercer, 26, based on information from anonymous law enforcement officials. But some personalities on the more conservative side of the spectrum, including Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. declined to name the shooter on air.
Sheriff re:#OregonShooting -“You will never hear me mention his name. We would encourage media & the community to avoid using it.” Right on.
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) October 2, 2015
My friend @donlemon says “we (TV news) must identify him b/c that is our job.” No. Print media can. TV gives infamy he prob desired. Don’t!
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) October 2, 2015
Joe Scarborough, the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said Monday morning that he too wished news outlets would withhold mass shooters’ names to deprive them of recognition.
“I think, in part, it is an effort for people to get attention,” Scarborough said Monday morning. “I really wish we could stop giving the names of these people who are committing these heinous crimes, in large part for the attention. Because they go out in their twisted minds as folk heroes.”
It’s a stance that may sound familiar to supporters of tougher regulations on guns. Caren Teves, whose 24-year-old son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting, has become a strong proponent of efforts to stop gun violence, and started the No Notoriety campaign earlier this year along with her husband to challenge media outlets to cover mass shooters responsibly and not reward them with fame.
Teves told TPM in a Monday phone interview that she’s seen a groundswell of support for the campaign in the wake of the shooting at Umpqua Community College.
“I know this Oregon shooter had posted something somewhere saying ‘The more blood that is split I see the more attention people get.’ So the media knows it’s a motivating factor,” she told TPM. “Forensic psychiatrists know it’s a motivating factor. The FBI has a ‘Don’t Name Them’ campaign which is very similar to No Notoriety. It is a well studied and proven effect. But I just believe now the public is starting to realize the same.”
Asked for reaction to conservatives’ calls to withhold the Oregon shooter’s name, Teves welcomed the support.
“I find that no matter where you are on the spectrum it seems to be something that goes across the aisle,” she told TPM, adding: “I believe that at that moment they’re making the right decision in the interest of not giving the shooter notoriety.”
Teves and her husband, Tom, also appeared Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” Host Brian Stelter asked the couple what they’d say to journalists who argue they have an obligation to report a mass shooter’s name and dig into that shooter’s past.
“No one’s saying don’t name them,” Tom Teves said. “You can name them once. Just don’t be gratuitous. Don’t make them into anti-heroes and please don’t call them monsters. That’s what they want. Don’t give it to them.”
By way of proof, Caren Teves pointed to a recent study in which researchers at Arizona State University found that mass killings and school shootings were “contagious” for a period of 13 days, meaning there was an increased likelihood that a similar incident would take place in that time.
The study’s lead author, Sherry Towers, told Newsweek after the shooting in Oregon that media coverage contributed to that contagion effect.
“What we found was, in ones that didn’t get a lot of media attention there was no contagion, and in the ones where we did see a lot of media attention, that’s where we saw the contagion,” she told Newsweek.
Towers told The Associated Press that her analysis derived largely from news reports. But it was unclear whether naming mass shooters actually caused more violence since the gunmen’s names were part of every news story, she told the AP.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, doesn’t identify mass shooters in its own communications, spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb told TPM. Like Teves, Lamb also suggested that support for withholding mass shooters’ names from the pro-gun crowd was significant.
“I think that’s a meaningful shift in how we talk about guns and these events in our country,” she told TPM. “The focus should be on saving lives from gun violence and not on using the shooter. We want to understand what happened so we can prevent more tragedies but in our view it’s not about the shooter.”