As this lengthy series of columns on school violence and gun control begins to wind down, one should look at the media frenzy and copycats that erupt after a school shooting like that at Sandy Hook, where 20 6- and 7-year-olds died Dec. 14, 2012.
School shootings are rare and unusual forms of school violence, and account for less than 1% of violent crimes in public schools, with an average of 16.5 deaths per year from 2001–2008, according to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control report on school violence.
Some commentators claim that media coverage encourages school violence.
On the other hand, the press would likely have been faulted if it did not cover serious threats to public safety such as the Virginia Tech massacre, Columbine massacre, and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Still, gun control advocates say the problem is serious enough to limit or even ban firearm ownership. Government agencies are buying up literally billions of rounds of ammunition, making it difficult for the average gun owner to find ammunition on the consumer market and driving up the price up astronomically. Many conservatives say this is deliberate: if they can’t ban the guns, they’ll buy up all the ammunition. Even the Social Security Administration is buying high-powered assault weapons and the ammunition to us in them, according to government documents.
Yet one has to wonder if much of the panic and hands-wringing isn’t the media’s fault for sensationalism over-kill.
Within hours after the Sandy Hook shooting, on Dec, 20, 2012, Anne Arundel County (Maryland) police were working to dispel rumors of threats of possible school violence that are spreading on social media.
Police say the rumors on Facebook and Twitter claim possible acts of violence would be coming to 20 county schools Friday, the next day.
Officers say their investigation has turned up no credible threats.
The Howard County Public School System also released a note to parents Thursday addressing the social media rumors:
The HCPSS has been notified about viral social media rumors referencing violence in schools on Friday of this week. These rumors are circulating in school districts throughout the state. Our school system administrators and security team are working with the Howard County police, and at this time none of the rumors have been credible. Please be assured that all rumors and threats will continue to be taken seriously and fully investigated. The police will continue to provide an enhanced presence around our school campuses.
Even in the nearby Murfreesboro school system, several copycat threats were posted on the Internet and made area news.
Not only does 24/7 TV coverage help create copycats, making it harder to prevent the real violence, it is also very distressing and even traumatic to younger children, leaving parents wondering how to deal with their children’s fears.
School bullying is convincingly the last step before school violence erupts. A knowledgeable local source says there were 16 filed school bullying complaints in Hickman County last year, but the school system seems to be keeping a tight lid on details such as the number of incidents per school – even though the names of the students involved were not requested.
Shouldn’t there be a middle ground, where information is available to parents, school board members and the media without going to the extremes of either censorship in the name of public relations or insane and irresponsible media hype? The Hickman County news media has never acted irresponsibly in reaction to school violence, but hiding an unpleasant truth from the public, the media and even the school board serves no one well. Untreated wounds can only become worse infested.