Quick, what was the name of the man who went on the killing spree in Oslo earlier this year? I don’t remember either. The only thing that comes to mind is a photograph of some doofus in a wetsuit posed awkwardly with a rifle, looking for all the world like a publicity still for a community theater James Bond parody. How about the Virginia Tech shooter? Er…he was Korean, right? What about the Columbine High killers? Again a blank. One of them had a name that sounded like Kris Kringle. For the other I couldn’t even tell you that.
I’m writing this on a morning when no news of a mass shooting has just broken. Odds are nothing of the sort will happen today. But odds are also that it will eventually happen again, and at some point in the next few years we’ll all spend a day making ourselves sick keeping tabs on an increasing death toll. Then we’ll go on to dutifully read the profile of the killer who turned the gun on himself just as the police arrived and learn, once again, that he was male, socially inept, emotionally delicate, with an outsized sense of victimization and a dweeby firearm obsession. In the moment, individual biographical details may seem meaningful, but this haze of sameness is the real truth.
Newspapers make a practice of not publishing the names of victims of sexual assault. Why not do the same for perpetrators of random massacres? It only encourages copycats by giving the false impression that shooting unarmed people is somehow difficult. And the public loses nothing by being denied the details about the killer’s life, because we’ve already heard it all before.
Even if the media doesn’t change, changing your own response is easy. The next time one of these awful events happens, read as much about the victims as you can stand, but brush past the killer’s details. Blow him off like you would have in real life. Refuse to let the eleventh-hour purchase of a handgun change the fundamental truth that he was a nobody. Instead say to yourself, as quickly and grumpily as possible, “Another impotent weakling, already forgotten” and move on.