The amazing thing about the mass shooting last week at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, is that it didn’t happen sooner at another newspaper. It marked the mass shooting No. 154 since the summer of 1966, with a mass shooting defined as one person fatally shooting and killing at least four people in a single event. Not one of those 154 shootings occurred at a newspaper, and I could find none since the University of Texas tower shootings on Aug. 1, 1966, with the sniper’s death toll (not counting himself) tallying 17.
That shooting 52 years ago is credited—an undeserving word for that distinction— with being the first mass shooting in these United States. Actually, there was one fitting this definition of a mass shooting back on Sept. 5, 1949, when a mentally ill Army vet casually killed 13 people walking around his neighborhood in Camden, NJ.
By the way, multiple shootings, with at least four wounded and fewer than four dead, number in the hundreds in the past decade alone.
Seventeen years without a mass shooting followed that mass murder in Camden, qualifying it as an abnormality. It was after the Texas tower killings, however, that these incidents started coming faster and faster, reaching a dizzying pace with 1,875 killed and 6,845 injured in mass shootings between Jan. 13, 2013, and Feb. 15 of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The latter marked the Parkland, FL school shootings with 17 killed and 12 injured. The number 17 shared by the University of Texas and Parkland shootings is morbidly coincidental and shows how little has been accomplished in resolving mass shootings in this country.
These killing sprees have occurred in elementary schools, high schools and colleges, as well as indoor and outdoor concerts, church Bible study classes, business offices, restaurants, movie theaters and by a killer strolling around his own neighborhood.
Mass shootings do not include serial killers who claim their victims cumulatively over days, weeks, months or years. The definition also excludes gang violence, multiple killings in private residences or when an armed perpetrator is committing another crime such as a botched bank robbery or a shootout with police.
I spent quite a bit time going through the data in the Gun Violence Archive for the past five years alone. I wondered how many multiple shooting incidents had taken place in Pennsylvania alone over that span. There were 61 events but only five fit the category of four or more killed. There were many with multiple injuries and my count was 58 killed and 262 injured. The closest to us was Williamsport where, on April 18, 2015, a shooter fired into a group of people in front of a Pine Street nightclub and injured five.
The number of incidents— more than one a month— may have been impressive for the Keystone State, but none of our shootings could hold a candle to the 50 murdered and 53 injured in Orlando, FL, on June 12, 2016, and 59 slaughtered and 441 injured from the comfort of a hotel room in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.
I assumed that at least one other mass or multiple shooting must have occurred at another newspaper, but I could find none.
I’m not heading the way you think I am here, because it seems we’re not going to change our opinions on the gun control issue, because the arguments never change. I just find it discouraging that we spend more time arguing about who and what to blame, rather doing something about it.
Newspapers have been reporting mass shootings since the sniper randomly picked off all of those people on the University of Texas campus back in 1966, but this appears to the first time someone entered a newspaper with homicidal intent.
“The Capital, like all newspapers, angered people every day in its pursuit of the news,” Tom Marquardt, former executive editor and publisher of The Capital Gazette, wrote. “In my day, people protested by writing letters to the editor; today it’s through the barrel of a gun. Sure, I had death threats and the paper had bomb threats. But we shrugged them off as part of the business we were in.”
I haven’t mentioned any of these mass killers by name, because we tend to remember them and not the victims. I do know, after almost four decades of working for three different newspapers, that it is not unusual for people to get mad at reporters and columnists and even threaten violence. Bullets were shot through the windows of the Rocket when I was a kid in more innocent times and, more recently, there have been threats of violence and revenge over news reported.
I was once told I would “live to regret it” many years ago while a reporter for one of those newspapers when I refused to leave out the name of a driver involved in a DUI accident whose passenger was a woman not his wife. No regrets yet.
These types of things happen at newspapers all over the state and country, as Mr. Marquardt noted in the wake of the deaths of those five people killed at his former newspaper. This killer had seethed for years about something written about him. When he finally took his horrible revenge, not one of his victims had anything to do with the coverage that so infuriated him.
I read one commentary stating the divisiveness in this country is the greatest it has been since the years leading up to the Civil War. I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s got to be pretty bad when newspapers are being branded “enemies of the people.”
There is an NBC news promo that puts it this way: “Be patient and have courage, for there will be better news one day.” That’s one advertising message I can really buy.
Wes Skillings is a Pennsylvania-based copywriter whose recent emergence into this field brings a freshness and vitality that will make the words on your website, newsletter, direct mail marketing or news release reach out and grab the customer base you are seeking.