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Should The Public See Horrific Video, Photos Of Mass Shootings?


Few Americans outside public officials ever see the most graphic videos or photos from the worst mass shootings. In most states, such evidence is displayed only at trials, and most such killers never make it to court.


The penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz for his 2018 murder of 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is unusual, the Associated Press reports.


As the worst mass shooting to reach trial, the surveillance videos taken during his attack and the crime scene and autopsy photos that show its horrific aftermath are being seen by jurors on shielded video screens and, after each day’s court session, shown to a small group of journalists.


They are not shown in the gallery, where parents and spouses sit, or to the general public watching on TV. Some believe that should change — that to have an informed debate on gun violence, the public should see the carnage mass shooters like Cruz cause, often with high-velocity bullets fired from AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and similar weapons.


Others say the public display of such videos and photos would add to the harm the victims’ families already endure and might entice some who are mentally disturbed to commit their own mass shooting. They believe such evidence should remain sealed.


Liz Dunning of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence doesn’t believe releasing such videos and photos would have the political impact some think. Polls show that most Americans already support stronger background checks for gun buyers and bans or restrictions on AR-15s and similar weapons, said Dunning, whose mother was murdered by a gunman.


Because most of the worst U.S. mass shooters were killed by themselves or police during or immediately after their attack, it is rare for anyone outside government to see such surveillance videos or police and autopsy photos. The public didn’t see such evidence after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, Orlando in 2016, Sandy Hook in 2012, Virginia Tech in 2007 and others.


Cruz, 23, fled after his shooting and was arrested an hour later. He pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder. The trial is only to determine if he is sentenced to death or life without parole. The videos and photos are part of the prosecution’s case.


Since the trial began July 18, everyone in the courtroom and watching on TV has seen and heard heartbreaking testimony from teachers and students who saw others die. They have heard the gunshots and screams as jurors watched cellphone videos.


When graphic videos and photos are presented, those are not shown. Usually, they only hear medical examiners and police officers give emotionless descriptions of what the jury is seeing.


At the end of each day, a group of reporters reviews the photos and videos, but are only allowed to write descriptions. That was a compromise. Some parents feared photos of their dead children would be posted online and wanted no media access.


And even if the graphic photos and videos were released, most major newspapers, wire services and television stations would be hesitant to use them. Their editors weigh whether the public benefit of seeing an image outweighs any prurient interest — and they usually pass.

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