The shootist


Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

An Army Major identified by police as Nidal Malik Hasan goes on a killing rampage in Ft. Hood Texas, and the media calls him a “shooter.”  A student at Virginia Tech massacres his fellow students, and the press calls him the “Virginia Tech shooter.”  Brian Nichols murders a judge and a court reporter in cold blood, then kills two more people as he escapes the Fulton County Courthouse and flees to Gwinnett County.  Nichols becomes “the Fulton County Courthouse Shooter.”

How did mass murderers become “shooters”?  How did guys who left behind more carnage than the likes of Ted Bundy, Richard Speck and Charlie Starkweather get saddled with “shooter,” a handle that is easily confused with a shot of liquor during happy hour?


Charlie Starkweather

It’s sloppy, lazy, inexact and limp to call a guy like Nichols a “shooter.”  A “shooter” can be a guy in the back yard with a .22 rifle, shooting cans off  a fence post.  Nichols is a “killer.”  He’s a “gunman.”  He’s a “murderer.”  He’s even a “mass murderer,” a term no longer used because it’s so chilling, and would describe too many homicidal hotheads in the late 20th / early 21st century.

It’s reasonable to take “mass murderer” off the table, then, if only to avoid the possible cheapening of the term, the same way “brutal” and “bizarre” are cheapened by overuse on TV.

Big Al

Big Al

But to replace it with “shooter” is to whitewash the meaning from an act that shouldn’t be sugarcoated.   Alexander Hamilton was a “shooter,” maybe — a guy pointing his gun semi-upward during a competitive blood sport.  Aaron Burr was the gunman who declined to point his weapon upward.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed twelve people and injured 31 in a rampage at Ft. Hood.  Police say he’s a killer.  If a jury convicts him, he’s a murderer.

If you can use a term that more accurately describes the lethal nature of the crime eg. “killer,” why would anybody call Hasan, Nichols et al a “shooter”?

(And it has nothing to do with legal hairsplitting; “police say the gunman walked from room to room” works just as easily as when substituting the less descriptive word.)

Pet peeve?  Yes.

It’s time to bury “shooter.”  Unless it’s happy hour.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

10 thoughts on “The shootist

  1. Dirty Laundry

    Dead on with this post. My pet peeve is when a suspect is referred to as, “gentleman.” Although, interviewees are probably more guilty of that than reporters/anchors.

  2. Dirty Laundry

    It can be argued that Ted Bundy actually left behind more carnage.
    One example comes from Wikipedia;
    “After more than a decade of vigorous denials, he eventually confessed to over 30 murders, although the actual total of victims remains unknown. Estimates range from 26 to over 100, the general estimate being 35. Typically, Bundy would bludgeon his victims, then strangle them to death. He also engaged in rape and necrophilia.”

  3. Sammy

    Laf says “If a jury convicts him, he’s a murderer.”

    Pure BS Laf!

    Don’t you understand — He IS a murderer, even if he never stands trial.

  4. Jolly Roger

    Innocent until proven guilty in this country Sammy.

    Murder is a legal term. you can kill someone and not be a murderer (i.e. in a criminal negligent way) or in self defense.

    Yes, it is splitting legal hairs when it is a well known and widely reported case… but benefit of the doubt, that the accused “shooter” wasn’t the one who did the killing,… I mean, they DID tell us he was dead…. at first.

  5. Jimbo

    It’s almost like some people take he easy way out when scripting the story. Was it a murder? Was it self defense? Was it manslaughter? There are all these technical definitions that one can get into that define the crime, so they just latch on to the one thing they know for certain-people got shot, so someone is a “shooter”.

    It’s as though they’re afraid to refer to someone as a “killer” even in cases where it’s blatantly obvious that someone is.

    When being politically correct gets in the way of the truth, we’ve all lost something.

  6. Sammy

    Nobody has proved he shot anybody or even shot a gun, so why doen’t LAF refer to him as the accused or suspected shooter?

    Has he even been arrested? Did he acknowledge his Miranda rights?

    Someone is “convicted” of murder; they are not declared a murderer by the courts.

    Therefore, Oswald never murdered Kennedy in your dream world J.R.

    1. live apt fire Post author

      I don’t refer to him as “the accused or suspected shooter” because I am waging a one-man war on the word “shooter”!


      I did refer to him as a “killer,” with police attribution.

      As for Oswald: You can’t libel the dead (at least in Georgia). So call him a murderer. Better yet, an assassin. But not a shooter, please.

  7. Jolly Roger

    Sammy…. Thankfully, journalists have a standard they can turn to in these situations. Of all the things pulled out of my hind-end, style is not one of them.

    For a point of reference, I’ll quote the journalistic bible, the “AP Style Guide” (version 2002)

    “Murderer – See Assassin entry”

    “Assassin, Killer, murderer: An assassin is a politically motivated killer. A killer is anyone who kills with a motive of any kind. A murderer is one who is convicted of murder in a court of law.”

    Fortunately for LAF, shooter is not a defined entry in the AP style guide.

    So, you are right… Oswald did not “murder” JFK, he “assassinated him.”

    And Hasan, is for now, a suspected killer…

    (LAF: Would “shooter” or “gunman” be appropriate if he missed all his targets?)

    1. live apt fire Post author

      At the risk of encouraging “shooter,” I wouldn’t gripe about its use if the fool shooting the gun was a poor shot. Like, say A. Hamilton. Or that kid who fired shots but aimed low and barely hurt anyone at Heritage HS in Rockdale County some years back. But in the latter case, I’d still prefer “gunman.” Or even “attacker.”

  8. 2video

    Doug, I am so glad you did this website! It really makes for interesting reading ! Thanks Again. See you on the streets!


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