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GOP Senator Blames Media For Mass Shootings

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/10/2015 Daniel Marans
ATHENA IMAGE © Tom Williams via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

Guns don’t kill people -- media coverage of mass shootings kills people.

That's according to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who on Friday cited a common argument against journalists printing the names and other identifying details of shooters.

“Why do we have what we consider copycats of tragedies? Well, a lot of it is because this is plastered all over the news and these mentally ill, these sick people see it,” Johnson said in an interview on WRDN, a Wisconsin radio station. “They want to go out in a blaze of glory. They want to achieve fame.”

But rather than call for the media to restrain itself, Johnson went on to argue that there's really no way to reduce gun violence through public policy.

“That would be one solution, is not allow the news media to publicize it,” Johnson said. “Now, that would be an incredible infringement on free-speech rights. Is that where we want to go?”

The senator argued that other potential remedies -- like censoring violent video games or regulating guns more strictly -- would also violate Americans' constitutional rights and probably wouldn't be effective. 

“Is it worth infringing on people's First Amendment, Second Amendment, constitutional rights, to potentially not solve the problem anyway?” Johnson asked. 

“I think that's really a lot of the reason we haven't acted, just done something -- is because when you really come up and ask those hard questions, you go, 'Yeah, well, it might make us feel good to pass this solution, but it's not going to solve the problem,'” he went on. “And it does infringe upon our constitutional rights.”   

Besides citing mental illness and the supposed decline of traditional families, opponents of gun control have long blamed the media and violent video games for the high incidence of mass shootings in the U.S.

The National Rifle Association blamed the "national media machine" for inspiring the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. 

In Douglas County, Oregon, where gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week, Sheriff John Hanlin -- who has been a vocal opponent of gun control in the past -- has refused to say the killer’s name, saying that doing so “will only glorify his horrific actions and serve to inspire future shooters." 

While there is almost no evidence to support the idea that gory video games incite violence, some researchers have indeed said it's possible that "more restrained reporting" on crimes could reduce “copycat” behavior.

By contrast, there is a large body of research showing that gun control laws in multiple foreign countries have contributed to dramatic reductions in gun violence. And a 2014 study found that after Missouri repealed a background-check law for handgun buyers in 2007, it led to a 14 percent jump in the state’s murder rate.

There's also little reason to believe that the gun control policies proposed since the Oregon shooting would violate the Constitution. Although some strict gun regulations, like the District of Columbia’s law forbidding people from carrying a handgun in public, have been found unconstitutional, other measures, like Connecticut’s assault weapons ban, have been upheld in court.

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