There was a gun incident at Monterey High School this past week, so let’s first be thankful that it was “only” a scare while reminding everyone that in this day and age, when the words “gun” and “school” show up in the same sentence, it must be considered the most serious of business for everyone.
A quick word of praise for the Lubbock ISD and its response, communicating regularly with parents and addressing the matter with an abundance of caution. These are the moments school districts across the country prepare for and hope never occur, and they are times when parents, school employees and the media should understand the need to move with equal parts deliberation and speed.
My first question after reading Thursday’s story was: what are the names of the students involved? That also was a question from readers. My personal belief is if someone is knucklehead enough to bring a gun to school, they’re “of age” for having their identity disclosed by the media. Sorry if the knucklehead comment bothers you. Guns never, ever have a place in a school – unless they are being carried by brave and well-trained members of the law enforcement community.
Who carries guns is a column for another day. The purpose here is not to antagonize the pro-or anti-gun folks.
We knew early on that school officials would not name the students, citing privacy statutes, which, in their world, is appropriate. We also knew law enforcement would not name them if they were under the age of 17, which it appears is the case as sources have indicated the involved students were freshmen.
Keep in mind, though, these rules don’t apply to the media. Typically, newspapers prefer to wait until people are actually charged before their names are published in stories. This is not always the standard. If a public figure were involved, for instance, merely being arrested would merit a story. We believe if officials are convinced enough to charge someone with a crime, that insulates the media against future legal action to some extent if they name a person who is later acquitted or has the charges dropped.
The media (and their legal counsel) are increasingly skittish about identifying people in connection with alleged crimes these days, sometimes choosing to wait until people are at least indicted and at most convicted in court before naming them. The media would much rather cover trials than be summonsed to participate in them.
A twist comes when juveniles are involved. In Texas, alleged juvenile offenders under age 17 are protected from having their identities revealed by law enforcement (in most cases). As those of us who have been the ages of 13-16 or had someone that age live in our house, sometimes questionable choices are made. These can be summed up in the term “youthful indiscretions” and can cover a constellation of activities ranging from shoplifting to joyriding to recreational use of drugs and alcohol.
Many have benefited from a second chance or an unexpected dose of grace from someone in a position of authority. Others, not so much.
Regardless, the wisdom of a student bringing a gun to school may have been no more than a terrible mistake. It may also have been something much more nefarious. The unvarnished truth most likely is between those polar extremes and probably won’t ever become public.
The journalist in me wants to see the names of these young people published so they are held to account for their questionable actions. The father in me, were I in their parents’ shoes, would lobby for mercy, especially in the court of public opinion.
The guess here is their names already have been made public on social media. Parents or friends or other students likely have jumped on Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to dish the details of what “really” happened.
This, of course, makes their identities an open secret, and no one will really worry too much – until they see the names in the media. Then it officially becomes a Big Deal. The media would be obliged to confirm the identities before reporting them as readers are rightfully highly skeptical of stories that attribute information to “a social media post.”
Beyond that, though, would there be a greater good served by publishing the names of the two arrested (but not charged or indicted, as of Thursday)? Two young lives and their families are impacted. After that, I’m not sure. I do know how thankful I am to be writing about an incident in which no one was hurt, school protocols worked and the flow of information took place as best it could under the circumstances.
That is the desired outcome, regardless of whether we make public the names of those said to be responsible.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Avalanche-Journal.