Devon Chenelle | University of Notre Dame
It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - until July 21st, 356 BC, when a man set the roof on fire, reducing 120 years of construction to ash. The culprit was soon captured, and confessed to committing the crime so that he would be “remembered forever.” In response, Ephesus made the very mention of the arsonist’s name a capital crime.
We know little about him, but I assume the arsonist was not happy, successful, or popular. He despaired of attaining the renown exalted by the Greeks, and rather than accept ignominy, he pursued immortality through criminality. His plot was a success; this villain is better remembered than nearly all his contemporaries. This myth has a particular resonance, for we reenact this ancient injustice each time we recall school shooters while reducing their victims to tallies in a kill count.
It is no coincidence our two societies afflicted by narcissistic terrorism fetishize fame. Prioritization of individual glory leads many to crave renown they will never achieve, fomenting frustration and anger. Similarly, America and classical Greece lack widespread conviction in all persons' posthumous salvation or damnation, removing fear of divine retribution and channeling humans’ yearning for immortality towards the pursuit of fame, which bestows immortality through others’ memory of one’s name and deeds, exemplified by Achilles, who accepted that death awaited him when he joined the Trojan War, doing so regardless in order to win “everlasting fame.” However, only a tiny minority is capable of heroism, while nearly all people thirst for immortality. Some resign themselves to obscurity and achieve immortality through procreation; others seek immortality in infamy, burning temples and shooting up schools to live forever.
Last month, a fatal shooting occurred at a Florida high school, and everyone followed the script. As some conservatives silently rejoice at the confirmation of their worldview and opportunity to advance their agenda signalled by an Islamist terror attack, some progressives enjoy secret elation when another white male shoots up a school with an assault rifle, for such events potently support their policy aims and reinforce their conceptions. Gun-control advocates have used the recent massacre effectively, divorcing the NRA from several sponsors and bludgeoning rhetorically hapless members of the Republican Party over their 2nd Amendment zealotry - don’t worry about Team Red, they’ll be sure to beat the Dems senseless after the next episode of Islamic terror or revelation of Planned Parenthood's baby parts discount drive.
When it comes to preventative steps, our politically polarized country only allows people to view the debate as a power struggle between the party you think supports your interests and the one you think wants to destroy America. Setting aside prima facie unacceptable proposals to arm teachers, a suggestion seemingly drawn from Idiocracy's deleted scenes, both parties' responses are only capable of partial success.
Democrats’ support for tightened restrictions on buying assault rifles is reasonable but offers little practical benefit. Without a material reduction in America's over 100,000,000 personal firearms, a near-impossible task barring a literal civil war, guns will remain available and new purchase restrictions will be largely ineffective.
Republican proposals to institutionalize more of the mentally ill are slightly more hare-brained but essentially similar to the Democrats’ suggestion - it would be a contentious program that, at best, will only chip away at the problem.
By dwelling in agonizing detail on the attack’s course and consequences, they provide a guide for future shootings and even a metric for “how well” the shooter did, tracking their kill count like Call of Duty (a practice adopted and amplified by various online image boards, which display “high score” leaderboards for mass murderers visually cruder but less morally repulsive than the media’s sick fixation on the numbers of killed and injured). Is it any wonder why some deranged, depressed, and deprived individuals who couldn’t have made it onto public access tv choose to shoot their way into history?
Mass shootings are not immune to judicious policies, and two in particular promise to curb the violence. Currently, the media encourages future bloodshed by treating such tragedies as a Special News Event where the Active Shooter is the main character, fulfilling the homicidal narcissist’s deepest desire and inspiring imitators. In response, we ought to follow the Ephesians' example and proscribe the identification of mass shooters and the enumeration of their body count in the media. To make this ban effective, I suggest 5-10 years prison time for any media personality who names the criminal, and 9-figure fines for the media company that broadcasts the ban's violation.
Next, drawing from Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, which charted Americans’ slumping social participation and it’s deleterious effects, I propose federal funding for social organizations situated in both physical and virtual spaces targeted at disaffected, disconnected, and mentally troubled young males – i.e., those most likely to become mass murderers. The physical groups could organize trips and host dinners, while the online groups could conduct gaming tournaments or chatroom-assisted movie watches. These progams engender distractions and possible camaraderie that can abate murderous rage and prevent its sanguinary fulfillment.
Just as the Ephesian arsonist’s success inspired countless imitators, the lost souls who might shoot up a school or church draw no small motivation from the fame, notoriety, and attention received by each mass shooterremembered in proportion to the gravity of their evil. These misfit young men despair at ever being valued in a society that idolizes achievement, fame, and power, and thus choose to gain fame and power through the inevitable news coverage of their mass shooting, which exalts evildoers and reduces victims to mere stats. This practice, morally reprehensible and socially perilous, is intolerable. To that end, I call for a blanket ban on the use of the shooter’s name and mention of the number of dead in the wake of any such tragedy.
Of course, these measures will never be adopted, just as, though I hate to say it, these shootings will continue indefinitely, and, just as indefinitely, we’ll have the same conversation after the next one, and the next, and the…