Should images of shooting victims be shown?

On June 8 in Washington, Texas pediatrician Roy Guerrero told congressmen what he saw after the May 24 shooting that killed 21 at an elementary school in Uvalde: Children whose bodies had been so pulverized by bullets, decapitated, whose flesh had been so shredded that the only clues to their identities were the clothes […] that they wore. Dr. Guerrero, along with several relatives of the victims of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, had come to plead with lawmakers to take action to end the carnage.

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Shortly after his intervention, the House of Representatives approved a law that would have banned the sale of assault rifles to those under 21, as well as the sale of weapons with high-capacity magazines. Although these measures are modest, almost all Republicans voted against, and these bans will not be validated in the Senate, where the right rejects any limit on the right to bear arms. Would this refusal of the Republican Party be more difficult to defend if the public saw images of bodies pulverized by assault rifles? In recent weeks, several voices have been raised to defend this idea.

Referring to Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old student who watched her classmates die in Uvalde, former Homeland Security Minister Jeh Johnson wondered: “ Why was this child forced to see this, when the elected officials who allow this environment to exist can avoid seeing clearly the consequences of their actions or inaction? “.

A debate launched after the Sandy Hook massacre

The idea that these shootings remain too abstract in the collective consciousness had already been advanced after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. I wonder if this country would still accept school shootings if we saw the pictures of what those kids looked like in Sandy Hook, their little bodies riddled with holesexplained Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy in 2021. I have seen images of Sandy Hook that others have not seen and these images can inspire action. »

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At the time, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore offered to release photos taken by the police, but the families feared, wrongly, that the director would attempt to do so without their permission. In Uvalde, journalists have not had access to the carnage inside the school, so the police are the only ones with the footage. When the killer remains alive, as in the case of the racist shooting at a Charleston church in 2015, the shots are shown at trial, but do not go beyond this restricted framework.

Republicans are standing up against the ban

Republicans opposed to banning assault rifles seem to have a very flippant attitude to guns. Thus, the senator from South Dakota, John Thune, affirmed even recently that there are “ legitimate reasons to own these guns, because in his state, people use them to kill ” rodents ” in the fields…

Yet surgeons and other experts keep repeating how different AR-15s, the rifles used in the majority of mass shootings, are from simple revolvers. While a revolver bullet passes through the body over a small area, these weapons of war explode entire parts of a body. “ Republicans who attempt to normalize these weapons should be forced to face the reality of their lethal force. If they don’t listen to parents or doctors, they should see stark images of the carnage they cause. writes journalist Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post.

Those who defend the diffusion of this kind of photos generally evoke the case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American young man tortured to death in Mississippi in 1955. His mother had wanted the funeral to be held with an open casket in order to that ” people see what they did to my boy. A photographer had been allowed to take pictures, and the publication of those pictures in a magazine had helped galvanize the movement for the defense of the civil rights of African Americans.

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In the magazine New Yorker, journalist Jelani Cobb stresses that it should not be concluded that the dissemination of these images would necessarily be effective. For decades, in the South of the United States, atrocious photos of lynched black men circulated in the form of postcards… Till’s photo had an impact on the population of the North, already more predisposed to support the African Americans. However, the pro-gun right in the United States has a rhetorical arsenal that allows it to refuse any restrictions on access to guns, even after the worst shootings. The tenors of the party repeat that the problem comes from psychiatric disorders, the lack of armed security, or even the decline of religion in society.

Instead of broadcasting images that risk dehumanizing the victims (an impossible choice for relatives), it is possible to show only impersonal details. For example, after an attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan in 2014, photos of a classroom covered in blood were released by the press. Even if a radical legislative impact is unlikely, not sanitizing the reality of the massacres in the United States could at least serve to underline the indifference of elected Republican officials.

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