What mass killers want, and how to stop them

How might journalists and police change their practices to discourage mass shootings? First, they need to do more to deprive the killer of an audience:

Never publish a shooter’s propaganda. Aside from the act itself, there is no greater aim for the mass killer than to see his own grievances broadcast far and wide. Many shooters directly cite the words of prior killers as inspiration. In 2007, the forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told “Good Morning America” that the Virginia Tech shooter’s self-photos and videotaped ramblings were a “PR tape” that was a “social catastrophe” for NBC News to have aired.

Hide their names and faces. With the possible exception of an at-large shooter, concealing their identities will remove much of the motivation for infamy.

Don’t report on biography or speculate on motive. While most shooters have had difficult life events, they were rarely severe, and perpetrators are adept at grossly magnifying injustices they have suffered. Even talking about motive may encourage the perception that these acts can be justified.

Police and the media also can contain the contagion of mass shootings by withholding or embargoing details:

Minimize specifics and gory details. Shooters are motivated by infamy for their actions as much as by infamy for themselves. Details of the event also help other troubled minds turn abstract frustrations into concrete fantasies. There should be no play-by-play and no descriptions of the shooter’s clothes, words, mannerisms or weaponry.