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Senate Bill Keeps Images Of Mass Murder Victims Out Of Public Eye

people laying down as if they have been shot in protest of gun laws.
Tom Flanigan

A bill in the Florida legislature would remove from public record video, audio, or images of mass violence victims.

If the bill is passed, the public would not be allowed to get photos, videos, or audio recordings of someone dying in an act of mass violence. The proposal defines mass violence as a crime that involves the murder of three or more people, not including the perpetrator. Examples include the Pulse Night Club and Parkland school shootings. But Republican Sen. Aaron Bean has concerns on what qualifies as "mass violence".

“You put a number. You put a number on what a mass killing is and you put that number as three. Where did three come from and why can’t it be two? Why can’t it be one?” asks Bean.

Republican Sen. Tom Lee is sponsoring the bill.

“The idea here was to come up with something tied to federal—Tied to a definition in current law. There are several. There’s four. There’s five. But the one that seemed to stick out most to us was the one I referred to earlier, I think it’s used by the FBI which is three or more,” he says.

Students gathered on FSU's Landis Green after a shooting at the school's library.
Credit Nick Evans / WFSU News
The threat of mass violence weighed heavily after the shooting at Strozier Library on FSU's campus.

The FBI’s defines a mass murderer as someone who kills four or more people with no distinctive time between killings. A serial murderer is someone who has killed two or more people in separate places.

Florida lawmakers worry the bill’s current wording doesn’t protect survivors. Those injured might still see photos or videos of themselves. Lee says he has taken this into consideration.

“I understand that there are people left out of this and as inappropriate for people to be getting access to this in public and publishing it out in the world, we also have a first amendment."

He says, “you can’t have democracy without a healthy first amendment. It just doesn’t work so the ability for the media to access this information is important and the broader it’s drawn the harder it is to get support for.”

The bill gained the attention of the First Amendment Foundation when it was filed in January.  At first, the foundation’s president, Barbara Petersen, says it raised concerns.

“It said in the definition of killing of a victim of mass violence—It said all acts or events that caused or otherwise relate to the death of a person. So, for example would that include footage of Nicolas Cruz purchasing a gun in a gun store? We don’t know what that means.”

Petersen sent a letter to Lee, who later amended his bill to have narrower wording. She says the changes have led the foundation to take a neutral position toward the bill.

Now, the bill says, "acts or events that show a person being killed. Or show the body of a person killed. I don’t know of any media outlets that want those photos or videos. They want to see what happened. How law enforcement responded and I believe how this bill has been narrowed would allow us that oversight,” says Petersen.

Petersen says what can or cannot be accessed will ultimately be decided in court. The bill is still being reviewed in Florida Senate and has an accompanying bill in the House.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.