A Couple of Practical Points after the Shooting Incident in Newtown, Connecticut

I haven’t blogged for weeks and before this I was wondering where the material for my comeback post was going to come from. I wish I were still wondering.

I never thought that this blog might do any community service other than for lefties, but after yesterday’s heartbreaking shooting in Newtown Connecticut, I thought I’d contribute something.

So much of the post-shooting discussion has been about what we need to do to prevent the next one: banning/regulating firearms, treating mental illnesses, securing our schools, etc. Some of it—make it much of it—has been controversial, stirring our emotions, wrenching our souls. Well I have two points to make.

First, without any prejudice as regards to my nationality, this issue needs to be looked at in the cold light of day, not when emotions are running high and certainly not fresh from the incident the day after. Everyone should give it a few days, perhaps after the mourning is over, before seriously studying the issue. This is a time to mourn, a time to cry, a time for grieving, a time for prayers, and a time to let our loved ones know just exactly how much we love and cherish them. Let the emotions settle, the tears dry, the hearts heal and the mind to un-cloud before we start talking about the issues at hand.

The other point I want to bring to everyone’s attention is this phenomenon called the Werther’s effect. In 1774, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther. I have not read it, but in it is apparently a beautiful and at the same time sad story of love gone sad. The protagonist eventually kills himself. At the time of its publishing, the book became a commercial success, but also led to first known examples of copycat suicide.

Fast forward exactly 200 years, sociologist David P. Philips conducted research that showed that suicides increased immediately after a suicide case comes up in the mass media, and that the more publicity devoted to the story, the larger the subsequent rise in suicides. He called this The Werther Effect, attributing the rises to the power of suggestion.

Subsequent similar studies have pointed to the influence of suggestion and imitation created by highly-publicized cases of suicide and murder, linking even increased incidence of aircraft and motor vehicle accidents to publicized suicide (hope you’re able to see the link, if not, click the links).

My appeal is for governments, law enforcement agencies, school administrators, parents and everyone who can make a difference to be on the lookout, be vigilant, and help to prevent the next one.

And my appeal to the news media is to not saturate news outlets even further with unnecessary coverage. It is a race to the bottom. Furthermore, granting the killer such publicity is unjust reward for a crime so heinous. It is an unnecessary encouragement for those contemplating similar acts. (I trust my blogging about this issue does not constitute a significant increase in publicity for the incident.) I know there are arguments for the opposing view, for greater awareness and freedom of information (God knows I am curious to know the latest up-to-the-second developments as well). But faced with such grim statistics, some moderation on the amount of coverage is in order, at the very least.

May the Lord provide comfort to those who have lost loved ones in the shooting, and also to those who are grieving with them.

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