News reports about gun violence typically always offer the same kind of information; namely the context of the shooting, updates about the case, and names of the victims, often accompanied by pictures of their smiling faces.
The stories, though undeniably heartbreaking, are considerate and factual. They inform readers of the situation and honour those who so cruelly lost their lives.
In turn, these stories can make readers feel sadness, shock and anger. But what if that’s not enough? If you’re far removed from the situation you could read these stories, acknowledge them, and go about your day more or less without impact.
Watch how change could be made below.
Warning: Distressing Content:
A group of students from Columbine High School, where a mass shooting killed 13 people in 1999, believe the media can do more to make their audience realise the truth of gun violence in the US; to make people sit up and say ‘we can’t let this happen to anyone else’.
That’s not to say people aren’t already fighting gun violence – there’s no doubt they are. But as it’s still a prominent threat, it’s clear more can be done.
The students’ movement, titled #MyLastShot, argues media censor the reality of the violence. They say reducing incidents to the number of lives lost dehumanises the issue and point out: ‘if we can’t handle the reality of what our gun violence epidemic is causing, we’ll remain stuck in a loop.’
The group’s solution, then, is to encourage the media to publicise images showing the bodies of gun violence victims in the aftermath of the shooting. Yes, it might sound like a harrowing, gruesome idea – but that’s the point.
18-year-old Kaylee Tyner, from the #MyLastShot team, explained the premise of the movement to UNILAD, saying:
#MyLastShot was created by students as way to open people’s eyes to the harsh realities of gun violence.
Its gut-wrenching message is one that is hard to think about, but something that is necessary. When one sees what bullets truly do to a body they feel a much stronger need to fight against gun violence and create a change.
The group understand not everyone will agree with them, but those who do can join the movement by signing up to receive a #MyLastShot sticker.
— #MyLastShot (@mylastshot) September 5, 2019
In the same way as you carry an organ donor card, the #MyLastShot sticker can be put on a personal item, like a driving licence or phone, to indicate to others you give permission for images of your body to be publicised should the worst happen.
The sticker reads:
In the event that I die from gun violence please publicise the photo of my death #MyLastShot.
Hopefully the movement is one which will never need to be put into practice but the campaign’s website warns if it is, images could contain ‘broken bone fragments, three-inch bullet holes and blood-soaked uniforms’. The images will be graphic and horrifying, but the students explain ‘progress isn’t made through censorship’.
While explaining how #MyLastShot began, Kaylee described how eye-opening, honest images can create shock waves among viewers, saying:
After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, there were many videos in the media that students took as their school was being shot up. These videos were extremely hard to watch, but they showed the reality of gun violence.
This really stayed with me as the youth gun violence prevention movement was sparked by March For Our Lives. As I thought about what this movement needed, I realised that Americans are truly sheltered from what gun violence looks like.
The Marymount University student went on to point out how time and again, truthful images have incited change. She used 14-year-old Emmett Till as an example of this. In 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store, Till was kidnapped, beaten and shot by the woman’s husband and his half-brother.
The two men were tried for murder but an all-white, male jury acquitted them.
According to 100 Photos, when Till’s mother, Mamie, came to identify her son she told the funeral director ‘let the people see what I’ve seen.’ She insisted on an open casket and an image of Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s body was publicised in Jet Magazine.
The image sparked shock and galvanised the civil rights movement because, as Kaylee explains, ‘the images of his death showed what racism truly looks like.’
The 18-year-old hopes #MyLastShot would work in a similar way, explaining:
I knew that if Americans started to think about and see what gun violence does to one’s body, real change would come sweeping over the country.
I believe the images would spark a new push in the gun violence prevention movement to create preventative efforts on a federal and local level to reduce gun violence.
Though a number of people have given permission for images of their bodies to be publicised through #MyLastShot, the success of their movement would be dependent on their photos being shared online and by media outlets. This may pose a problem for the campaign as many media outlets are averse to showing graphic and harrowing images.
Kaylee told UNILAD that while companies can legally share these kinds of graphic images, they avoid publicising them because ‘they don’t want to politicise the death of an individual’, risk being sued by angry family members or be inconsiderate to the victim’s loved ones.
Media companies may also avoid sharing the likely controversial images out of fear of losing support from advertisers. UNILAD spoke to Dale Lovell, co-founder of ad company ADYOULIKE and author of Native Advertising: The Essential Guide, about how advertisers may respond to the use of graphic images of gun shot victims.
Dale explained while the editorial and commercial aspects of companies are typically kept separate, companies ‘are often mindful of their advertisers’.
Advertisers, particularly in today’s environment of ‘brand purpose’, micro-analysis of brand actions and how easy it is to generate a negative impact… are very very sensitive to controversy.
They are very risk averse. Publicising images of bodies may jeopardise some ad partnerships, for certain brands. There are some brands and businesses where association – even to a small extent – is a big, big, no-no.
However, while advertisers may not be happy about the use of graphic imagery, Dale explained media companies would still use the photos if they were determined to – ‘especially if they hit on a cause that is both worthy and interesting to their audiences.’
Many outlets may have reservations about sharing images of gun violence victims but the #MyLastShot campaign has managed to change the opinions of some companies and journalists to get them on board, one of which is the journalism ethics organisation Poynter.
Kaylee explained Poynter was previously strongly against sharing graphic imagery in stories but following the launch of #MyLastShot it updated its website to include tips for how and when to share photos of victims who took the campaign’s pledge.
The website encourages potential publishers to explain their decision to publicise the photos, as well as thinking about the tone and degree of coverage and the stakeholders who would be affected by the decision.
Poynter also encourage companies to consider the following:
How will showing the images affect the victim’s family, friends, classmates and the viewing or reading public?
Did the victim discuss his or her wishes with family members?
How does the age of the student enter into the decision to publish or not publish a gruesome image?
What were the circumstances under which the student signed the sticker? Was it peer pressure or a heartfelt statement that was behind the signature?
Would the graphic images or videos reward violence?
After seeing the journalism ethics organisation change their site to offer advice on how to share #MyLastShot photos, Kaylee pointed out the campaign is arguably ‘forcing the media to ask if they actually should share photos they previously refused to share’.
They didn’t share to protect viewers, but now it’s the viewers – the people – who are the ones saying they want their graphic photos publicised.
Poynter ask a lot of questions about the circumstances under which the #MyLastShot pledge was taken but Kaylee is encouraging those who have joined the campaign to address these issues by informing their friends and family of their wish to have their photos shared.
Though the thought of losing your child to gun violence is a heart-wrenching one, the 18-year-old explained her parents are supportive of the campaign and what it stands for.
The student said:
I have talked to my parents extensively about #MyLastShot. Although they never want to think about one of their children dying by gun violence, they realise how big of a threat it is to young people’s lives.
My parents respect my wishes and have promised that if I am to ever die by gun violence that they will follow through with my wishes for my death to be politicised.
Of course, as powerful of a campaign as it may be, hopefully the #MyLastShot stickers will never need to be used. Too many people have already lost their lives to gun violence; it shouldn’t take even more to make a change.
I started High School on September 2nd, on September 1st I received my @mylastshot sticker. This is our reality. I have a sticker on the back of my phone case saying if I die in a shooting, post my picture to the hashtag #MyLastShot.
— Hunter C. Petro (@petro21805) September 5, 2019
If it ever did come to a point where victims’ photos were publicised, however, Kaylee hopes the public would react with ‘angered shock’. Not anger the images were released, but rather anger at the fact ‘we allowed another life to be lost to that kind of horrific violence’.
Though she hopes the images would spark change, the teenager has acknowledged gun violence in the US is ‘an extremely complex issue’ which ‘cannot be solved with one simple law’.
Kaylee shared her thoughts on the kind of change which needs to happen in the country, saying:
In order for the US to become safer when it comes to gun violence, there has to be a complete shift in the culture of the country around our relationship with guns.
There must be change on a federal, state, and local level, which will be the passing of laws such as Universal Background Checks, Red Flag Bills, and safe storage initiatives.
Along with this there needs to be violence prevention programs in communities that are most effected by gun violence and more mental health funding and programs for young people who are most at risk for committing suicide by firearm.
Get a #MyLastShot sticker today that lets the media and others know that you want photos of your dead body publicized if you die in a shooting. #texasshooting #OdessaShooting pic.twitter.com/dbEi1j4iPf
— #MyLastShot (@mylastshot) September 1, 2019
When it comes to the campaign’s role in this change, the 18-year-old explained #MyLastShot will work to ‘spark the conversation around the traumatic realities of gun violence’, in turn ‘bringing a heightened awareness around how gun violence is an extremely diverse issue.’
While the movement is an incredibly powerful one, it’s heartbreaking to know we’ve come to a point where people are willing to have photos of their dead bodies shared in order to incite a change we already know needs to happen.
Let’s hope the #MyLastShot campaign never comes into fruition, but if it does, hopefully the world will wake up to the true horror of gun violence and realise it needs to end.
If you’d like to take the pledge and order a #MyLastShot sticker, you can do so here.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.