As a crime was unfolding at Ohio State University in late November, an “active shooter” alert went out to students.
There was plenty of reason for the alert as a student plowed his car into groups of students and then emerged from his vehicle wielding what has been described as a “butcher’s knife,” slashing at anyone he came in contact with. There were eleven injuries reported, several serious. The alert told students and faculty to “run, hide, fight.”
The criminal was killed by a campus police officer on duty nearby after he failed to heed an order to stop.
When I googled the incident to be sure of some details, I began typing “Ohio State…” and the search engine supplied the word “shooting.” The news media, as the event was unfolding, broke in with “Breaking News” icons touting the “active shooter” incident.
Now, the only shooter in this incident was the armed police officer. That’s interesting in itself, because at many colleges and universities the police officers are unarmed, or at least armed only with non-lethal tools such as pepper sprays and batons.
I don’t blame the media as the incident was unfolding for using the term “active shooter” and I don’t even blame them for conflating an “active shooter” report into headlines or chryons that reported the incident originally as a “shooting.”
Although professionals may understand that the term “active shooter” can denote more than just someone shooting at people, we have become so accustomed to language like that and terms like “gun violence” that the shorthand loses it meaning to most people, or worse, perverts it.
However, as soon as media learned the facts of the case—that the criminal was armed only with a car, a knife and murderous desire, they should have corrected it and said something like, “We used the term ‘active shooter incident’ because that is the language in the alert sent by the school. But we have now learned that the perpetrator was not armed with a gun, but rather used a car and a knife. The incident was concluded when a campus officer shot and killed the rampager after he ignored an order to stop.”
But even a day or two after the incident, the media was still using the term “shooter” to describe the criminal. That’s bad reporting, plain and simple.
Any number of anti-gun activists, including legislators like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) could maybe even be forgiven for tweeting or issuing statements calling for more gun control as the incident was unfolding. (I think, of course, that you should be in possession of more than just a headline before you comment, but that’s another matter.)
But they all should take to their Twitter accounts, blogs and press releases and retract, perhaps after sober reflection of how quickly the incident was ended (under two minutes) by an armed “good guy.”
If this led to a discussion of who are “good guys” and who aren’t, so much the better. The debate about civilian gun possession on campus has been going on for some years, now, and maybe the many media outlets that covered the story should have gone to any number of Campus Carry advocates for comment.
It would have been helpful, too, to hear about the order to “run, hide, fight” that was issued by the school.
Anyone who has done her due diligence in becoming a gunowner has been taught that the first tactic is to get as far away as you can as quickly as you can (“run”). We’re also taught that there is no shame and a good deal of wisdom in hiding if that is possible (“hide”). As to “fight,” well, we are taught that, too. The order of the commands is in keeping with even the most rudimentary self-defense curriculum, even those that don’t involve firearms.
But it would be interesting to hear what students think the “fight” command means, and if they are taught any techniques to aid in the fight.
These types of incidents are statistically rare, but they do happen.
And it seems to me that more than delving into motives (except as they pertain to avoiding future incidents or prosecuting those that do happen) is fairly useless, and even dangerous, if they give the impression that learning the motive in one incident can prevent another.
What does seem useful is fully reporting the facts.
Even more useful? Teaching everyone how to deal with them.