‘Mass shootings’ have become alarmingly commonplace in the US, often carried out by people who feel isolated from or slighted by society; through changing the language we use when discussing these events, can we reduce their occurrence? Can we make them appear a less viable action for those who may consider carrying them out?
Firstly, this post isn’t about gun legislation or the second amendment. Whatever your position on the accessibility of firearms in America, we are all agreed that the innocent civilians being murdered en masse, the only commonality among the victims being they were all in a certain place at the same time is wrong.
Whether you support restrictive gun control or are a lifetime member of the NRA, none of us want a society where these events occur.
The Language of Mass Murder
Shooting is the action, but these are murders; those wounded were victims of attempted murder. Yet we, as individuals and in the media, always refer to these events as ‘shootings’; to the perpetrators as ‘shooters’. but that language is incorrect. ‘Shooting’ is something that happens on a gun range; it’s a verb devoid of intent.
Why do we shy away from calling the crimes ‘murders’ and the perpetrators ‘murderers’? If someone causes death (intentionally or through neglect) while driving a car we commonly use the legal term, which is’vehicular homicide’. This ties together the instrument used with the intent of the driver. We don’t refer to such an incident such as this as a ‘driving’.
Language Drives our Actions
The words we use when talking about a thing has a huge impact on our relationship with it. Those who commit such actions of mass murder commonly feel marginalized and alienated from a society they see as having abandoned them or betrayed them in some way.
If we can re-frame how we talk about those events that have already occurred, position the actions of the criminals as the antithesis of the emotion or message a potential perpetrator is trying to express, could this help sway them from carrying out such an act of violence?
If we could, collectively, talk about these mass killings as cowardly; as selfish; as weak. If we could talk about them in a way that positions them as the antithesis of what someone hopes to express through committing a similar atrocity, could we help to reduce their occurrence?
An Un-American Activity
If we talked about the act of walking into a public space and killing multiple people – taking away their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – as one of the most un-American of acts, could we make them distasteful to even those so marginalized as to consider them?