When boys become “gunmen”

Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette.

The recent shootings in Taber and Littleton have stirred up a great deal of commentary about the role of the media in promulgating violent behaviour. While the research seems to focus on the effects of watching violence on television or in the movies (for example, “Media’s role in youth violence is clear: studies”; Montreal Gazette 9 May 1999, page A7) the impact of news reports and editorial commentary in shaping cultural attitudes is less frequently addressed. Thus I was pleased to see George Jonas’ reflections (“Media overkill”; Montreal Gazette 9 May 1999, page A9).

Unfortunately, the power of the media in setting the “tone” of a period goes beyond the amount of repetitious coverage given to events such as these shootings. I am particularly disturbed by the frequent use of words such as “gunman” which I heard on the CBC National News to describe the 14-year-old killer in Taber, and its plural “gunmen” which was employed no less than five times by Diane Francis in her opinion piece on the same page as Mr. Jonas’. A 14-year-old boy with a rifle who shoots at tin cans is just that, a boy with a rifle. Let the boy brandish it or use it on other human beings and he magically becomes a man. Clearly, Ms. Francis is aware of the implications when she describes the Littleton killers as getting even “in a spectacular show of machismo, guns ablazing”.

When the media set this kind of example for its readers, of encouraging us to regard immature, impulsive children as men simply because they dare to use firearms on people, is it any wonder that these same children would not do the same? Clearly, the attraction for some children to have society regard them as adults without their having to develop the necessary maturity is irresistible.

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