In the United States, there have already been more than 60 mass shootings in 2019, according to statistics compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. In New Zealand, such events do not happen with the same frequency, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking on the challenge of ensuring that it stays that way.
Last week, two mosques in New Zealand became the latest venue for senseless violence after a gunman, targeting Muslims at prayer, murdered 50 people. For context, last year there were 49 homicides in the whole of New Zealand.
But after vowing that action would be taken to ban assault rifles within 10 days, the prime minister has delivered on her promise in under a week. On Thursday, Ardern announced that she’d secured the agreement of the government and both opposition parties to enact just such a ban, which will also include high-capacity magazines as well as bump stock modifications. New Zealand’s legislature is expected to introduce a bill in mid-April.
But Ardern’s rapid response to these tragic events began with a groundbreaking demand: Do not speak the gunman’s name. Her decision garnered international attention and set the tone for everything that followed.
On Tuesday, during her address to the New Zealand Parliament, Ardern said, “You will never hear me mention his name.”
She continued: “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing — not even his name.”
Advocacy groups have cautioned that it does a disservice to public safety for politicians and media professionals to wax poetic about the perpetrators of mass violence. Giving such criminals any semblance of infamy or celebrity provides them with validation — and motivates copycat killers.
Tom Teves, the co-founder of the No Notoriety campaign, warns that giving providing mass-shooters with too much attention — even in the well-intended service of trying to reckon with their motivations — runs the risk of creating a “narrative that they’re an anti-hero…and that’s a false narrative.”
No Notoriety, was founded by Teves and his wife Caren in 2012 in the wake of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, at which the couple’s son, Alex, was among the slain. Since then, they’ve dedicated their lives in the service of convincing journalists to stop giving gunmen the attention they seek. They recommend that these killers not be identified by name more than is minimally necessary, and that there should be reasonable restraints on the time spent analyzing their behavior, manifestos, and lives in the search for overcomplicated answers and base speculation.
“What we are doing is asking the media to just report responsibly,” said Teves. “If you need to use the name as a point of reference, then use it once. If you need to use a picture, then use the one of them in chains, because that’s where they’re going to end up.”
Teves, whose son was killed as he attempted to shield his girlfriend from the Aurora gunman’s bullets, said, “What we’re trying to do really, is we’re trying to save your child, because it’s too late for ours.”
In the years since his son’s death, Teves has observed No Notoriety’s recommendations take root, with a distinct shift in how the media approaches its coverage of mass murders seemingly underway.
“They’re focusing more on the victims than they ever did,” he said. Nevertheless, his feelings remain somewhat mixed: “The optimist in me says people are starting to get the message. The pessimist in me says that that’s what they decided is their cost of entry so that they can still sensationalize the murder.”
However, Teves has been thrilled to see New Zealand’s prime minister execute his dream approach to mass shootings — rapid action on gun laws, coupled with a restrained rhetoric around this shooting.
“It’s terrific! I think she’s doing the completely right thing. I think she’s exactly right, they want to be anti-heroes, that’s what [the gunman] wants. Don’t give it to him.“