Mass shootings and the news media: Catching up to the science of PACEs

How do we, as a country, learn about mass shootings and gun violence? The news media. How do we learn about the best approaches to prevent mass shootings and gun violence? The answer should be “the news media”, but it’s not. Yet.

People who know about the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences (PACEs) understand that PACEs are at the root of violence. The news media is getting there. In the last couple of years of mass shootings, more articles examined the childhood of the shooter, but more could be done, as I pointed out in essays I wrote after the Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, shootings.

After last week’s mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, two new threads appeared:

  1. A deep look at the shooter’s family (and this) to address the question: Are the parents to blame?
  2. And the growing number of online communities of mostly male youth or young men that glorify violence and are obsessed with nihilism. “I’ve described this as sort of like a mass shooter creation machine,” said Alex Newhouse, deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in an interview with NPR’s Odette Yousef. “A lot of these communities are designed to spin out mass shooters over time, over and over and over.”

My take on examining shooter’s families: I think it’s great to report what happened in a shooter’s family…as long as a reporter takes a trauma-informed approach. That means reporting without using words of blame, shame or punishment…so a headline that says “Are the parents to blame?” would change to “What happened in that family?”

Parents pass on ACEs—and positive childhood experiences (PCEs), for that matter—to their children. So, if they aren’t cognizant of their own ACEs, how can they possibly understand their child’s ACEs? And where did parents get their ACEs and PCEs? From their parents and environment. How to break the cycle? Educate families, organizations and communities about PACEs science, and integrate practices and policies based on PACEs science in all organizations in every community.

My take on the online cultures of violence: At the moment, the proposed solutions are to understand the subculture and moderate the content. “It’s not hard to figure out where different violent spaces are,” Emmi Conley, an independent researcher of far-right extremist movements, digital propaganda and online subcultures told NPR. “What’s hard is what do you do once you find one, if the red flag still falls within free speech territory. Because currently we have no intervention abilities, we only have law enforcement.” I have another idea: It seems to me that these subcultures provide a perfect opportunity to reach out and help youth who are in dire need of a caring adult and counseling. That’s a project worth funding!!

Ongoing issues: There’s the ongoing issue of the news media’s obsession with mass shootings, while mostly ignoring aggregate shootings, which receive little attention. And then the dire news of too many incidents of violence that lead news organizations to not cover important stories, and in almost every community, not cover the type of violence that costs communities the most in heartbreak and dollars—family violence. This headline in the Washington Post points out that mass shootings may be going the way of family violence coverage—too little coverage to help a community figure out how to prevent the violence. There are too many mass shootings for the U.S. media to cover: News organizations must make agonizing decisions about which shootings deserve on-the-ground reporting, and for how long.

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