AMU Emergency Management Opinion Original Public Safety

Controlling Public Information after Mass Shootings

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

On Saturday, October 27, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers. The mass shooting has been called the worst hate crime against Jews in American history.

As we grapple with the reality that such a crime could take place on American soil, we know that it is only one of numerous active shooter incidents in recent years.

Americans want to know everything about such a horrific incident – why it happened and exactly how police responded. However, the public’s thirst for knowledge may have a detrimental effect on public safety going forward. While the media certainly has an obligation to report news to the public, certain facts should not be released to media sources, including the tactics and weapons used in a mass assault.

Deterring Copycats by Controlling Weaponry Information

In the attack on the synagogue, media reports said the shooter used one semi-automatic rifle and three handguns. For gun control advocates, knowing what types of weapons were used is an important aspect of their policy agenda.

But when it comes to trying to stop these horrendous acts of violence, it is in the best interests of the general public and public safety agencies to not publish such information to deter potential copycats. It doesn’t take rocket science to realize that anyone intent on committing a serious act of violence will research how previous attacks were carried out. Knowing the specific types of weapons used gives insight to those who may be contemplating carrying out a similar incident about what worked well for the last active shooter.

Law Enforcement Tactics Should Never Become Public Knowledge

Most law enforcement agencies will explain that they do not release pertinent information about a crime while their investigation is ongoing. However, certain aspects about how an active shooter incident unfolded should not even be remotely discussed with the general public. It is information that the public does not need to know.

With the growing number of active shooter incidents, it is in the public’s best interest for law enforcement and, indeed, the media to withhold such information. Instead, the news media should focus on the lives that were lost.

When individuals contemplating committing such crimes have no knowledge of a shooter’s arsenal or police tactics, law enforcement has the upper hand in managing these situations and the general public will remain safer.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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