Rampage Nation: When A Gun Massacre Isn't Even Big News

Last Thursday, Andrew Engeldinger finished his shift at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, where he'd worked since the late 1990's. In the afternoon, Engeldinger was called into the front office and told he no longer had a job.

According to police, Engeldinger was armed at the time and began to open fire with a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol. He killed the company's founder and sought out three other sign-making coworkers for execution. The 36-year old shooter also killed a local UPS deliver man who got caught up in the on-site rampage.

When Engeldinger was done, he'd murdered five people. Then he went down into the firm's basement and shot himself in the head. When police arrived they described the scene as chaotic and the carnage as “hellish.” When they searched the shooter's apartment, police found packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition.

“He obviously had this gun and was practicing how to use this gun,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, describing the deadliest workplace shooting in Minnesota since the state began tracking these types of attacks two decades ago.

For the past two years Engeldinger's family had feared he was slipping into bouts of delusion and mental illness and had urged him, in vain, to seek treatment.

Incredibly, that mass murder story wasn't considered to be especially newsworthy by major news organizations. The shockingly small amount of press coverage the story has received (the New York Times has printed just two clipped AP reports on the shooting, buried in Section A and totaling less than 500 words) highlights the shoulder-shrugging response so many gun rampages now generate inside national newsrooms.

Yes, the extraordinary bloodbath that played out in Aurora, CO., over the summer when a killer executed 12 moviegoers, and wounded 58 more, produced an avalanche of news coverage for days on end. But in general, the type of senseless and habitual handgun violence that unfolded in an instant in Minneapolis no longer produces much interest for reporters and producers. And there continues to be even less mainstream media interest in exploring the cause of the endless shooting sprees and the role that the ubiquity of guns in America plays in them.

As I've noted in the past, the press often covers shooting sprees the way it covers violent acts of nature: One day news stories where all people can really do is try to stay out of the way. Sadly, the press seems to have embraced the old NRA mantra that guns don't kill people, people do. From the media's perspective, the mass murder stories that they pay increasingly little attention to don't add up to any kind of larger, newsworthy trend.

But they do. A two-month investigation by Mother Jones recently highlighted that the “rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years--at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public.”

Following the Aurora massacre, I criticized the press for leaving out so much of the gun-violence context behind the rampage, and lamented the fact that so little of the coverage acknowledged the disturbing truth about America's long, active line of shooting sprees. Far from happening in a vacuum created by an isolated villain, the Colorado mass murder was connected to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, one that gun proponents and conservatives don't want to address.

In the wake of the Minneapolis killings, the complaint isn't even about lack of context within the coverage. It's that there was almost no national coverage to begin with. (Noted: The local Minneapolis press did a thorough job covering the Accent Signage Systems shooting.)

As I mentioned, the New York Times has published fewer than 500 words the Minneapolis mass murder, all of it culled from AP reports. As of Monday, USA Today's print edition devoted just a few sentences to the story on September 28, while coverage from the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times has been limited to short wire reports, each containing fewer than 350 words.

On the evening network newscasts, the NBC Nightly News aired a brief report about the shooting on Friday, as did ABC's World News Tonight. The The CBS Evening News managed to fit its entire mass murder report into a single paragraph. (The networks' morning news programs added some additional rampage coverage.)

On cable, the coverage was mostly sporadic. CNN, for instance, didn't acknowledge the breaking Thursday story until Friday morning, airing a report that suggested Engeldinger had killed “at least two” people during his shooting spree. (He killed six, including himself.) Their subsequent coverage has been limited mainly to quick news briefs.

Question: How can a nation have a debate about gun violence and gun control when the epic, random eruptions of violence that guns produce aren't even thoroughly covered as news?