Skip to main content
×
Home

Mass Shootings and Public Support for Gun Control

Abstract

The recent spate of mass public shootings in the United States raises important questions about how these tragic events might impact mass opinion and public policy. Integrating research on focusing events, contextual effects and perceived threat, this article stipulates that residing near a mass shooting should increase support for gun control by making the threat of gun violence more salient. Drawing upon multiple data sources on mass public shootings paired with large-N survey data, it demonstrates that increased proximity to a mass shooting is associated with heightened public support for stricter gun control. Importantly, the results show that this effect does not vary by partisanship, but does vary as a function of salience-related event factors, such as repetition, magnitude and recency. Critically, the core result is replicated using panel data. Together, these results suggest a process of context-driven policy feedback between existing gun laws, egregious gun violence and demand for policy change.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Mass Shootings and Public Support for Gun Control
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Mass Shootings and Public Support for Gun Control
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Mass Shootings and Public Support for Gun Control
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Footnotes
Hide All
*

Department of Political Science, School of Public Policy, University of California, Riverside (email: bnewman@ucr.edu); Sheffield Methods Institute, The University of Sheffield (email: t.k.hartman@sheffield.ac.uk). We would like to thank Steven Melendez for his help with the data and Figure 1. Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at: https://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/LL6UTV and an online appendix is available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123417000333.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Altheide David L. 2009. The Columbine Shootings and the Discourse of Fear. American Behavioral Scientist 52 (1):13541370.
Ansolebehere Stephen. 2012. CCES Common Content 2010. Harvard Dataverse, V3. Available from hdl:1902.1/17705, accessed August 2015.
Arceneaux Kevin, Johnson Martin, and Murphy Chad. 2012. Polarized Political Communication, Oppositional Media Hostility, and Selective Exposure. Journal of Politics 74 (1):174186.
Atkeson Lonna Rae, and Maestas Cherie D.. 2012. Catastrophic Politics: How Extraordinary Events Redefine Perceptions of Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Birkland Thomas A. 1996. Natural Disasters as Focusing Events: Policy Communities and Political Response. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 14 (2):221243.
Birkland Thomas A. 1997. After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Birkland Thomas A. 1998. Focusing Events, Mobilization, and Agenda Setting. Journal of Public Policy 18 (1):5374.
Birkland Thomas A. 2006. Lessons of Disaster: Policy Change After Catastrophic Events. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Bishop Bradford H. 2014. Focusing Events and Public Opinion: Evidence from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Political Behavior 36 (1):122.
Bjelopera Jerome P., Bagalman Erin, Caldwell Sarah W., Finklea Kristin M., and McCallion Gail. 2013. Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Implications for Federal Public Health and Safety Policy, R43004. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Blair J. Pete, and Schweit Katherine W.. 2014. A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 - 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice: Washington D.C.
Cho Wendy K. Tam, and Gimpel James G.. 2012. Geographic Information Systems and the Spatial Dimensions of American Politics. Annual Review of Political Science 15:443460.
Chyi Hsiang Iris, and McCombs Maxwell. 2004. Media Salience and the Process of Framing: Coverage of the Columbine School Shootings. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81 (1):2235.
Cohen Amy P., Azrael Deborah, and Miller Matthew. 2014. Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows. Mother Jones, 15 October. Available from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/mass-shootings-increasing-harvard-research, accessed August 2015.
Craighill Peyton M., and Clement Scott. 2015. What Americans Blame Most for Mass Shootings (Hint: It’s Not Gun Laws). Fix, 26 October. Available from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/26/gun-control-americans-overwhelmingly-blame-mental-health-failures-for-mass-shootings/, accessed October 2015.
Cramer Clayton E. 2006. Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Dijksterhuis Ap, and Aarts Henk. 2003. On Wildebeests and Humans: The Preferential Detection of Negative Stimuli. Psychological Science 14 (1):1418.
Doherty Carroll. 2015. A Public Opinion Trend that Matters: Priorities for Gun Policy. Fact Tank, 9 January. Available from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/09/a-public-opinion-trend-that-matters-priorities-for-gun-policy/, accessed August 2015.
Dutton Donald G., White Katherine R., and Fogarty Dan. 2013. Paranoid Thinking in Mass Shooters. Aggression and Violent Behavior 18 (5):548553.
Enos Ryan D. 2016. What the Demolition of Public Housing Teaches Us About the Impact of Racial Threat on Political Behavior. American Journal of Political Science 60 (1):123142.
Enten Harry. 2015. The Massacre In Charleston Is Unlikely to Lead to Gun Control Legislation. FiveThirtyEight, 19 June. Available from http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-massacre-in-charleston-is-unlikely-to-lead-to-gun-control-legislation/, accessed August 2015.
Freedy John R., Saladin Michael E., Kilpatrick Dean G., Resnick Heidi S., and Saunders Benjamin E.. 1994. Understanding Acute Psychological Distress Following Natural Disaster. Journal of Traumatic Stress 7 (2):257273.
Ghose Tia. 2012. The Psychology of Mass Shootings. Live Science, 19 December. http://www.livescience.com/25666-mass-shooting-psychology.html, accessed August 2015.
Graber Dorris A., and Dunaway Johanna. 2014. Mass Media and American Politics, 9th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Haider-Markel Donald P., and Joslyn Mark R.. 2001. Gun Policy, Opinion, Tragedy, and Blame Attribution: The Conditional Influence of Issue Frames. Journal of Politics 63 (2):520543.
Hofstadter Richard. 1970. America as a Gun Culture. American Heritage 21 (6). Available from http://www.americanheritage.com/content/america-gun-culture, accessed August 2015.
Hopkins Daniel J. 2010. Politicized Places: Explaining Where and When Immigrants Provoke Local Opposition. American Political Science Review 104 (1):4060.
Hopkins Daniel J. 2013. Misplaced: The Limits of Contextual Influence on Americans’ Policy Attitudes. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.
Huddy Leonie, and Feldman Stanley. 2006. Worlds Apart: Blacks and Whites React to Hurricane Katrina. Du Bois Review 3 (1):97113.
Huddy Leonie, and Feldman Stanley. 2011. Americans Respond Politically to 9/11: Understanding the Impact of the Terrorist Attacks and Their Aftermath. American Psychologist 66 (6):455467.
Huddy Leonie, Feldman Stanley, Taber Charles, and Lahav Gallya. 2005. Threat, Anxiety, and Support of Antiterrorism Policies. American Journal of Political Science 49 (3):593608.
Huddy Leonie, Feldman Stanley, and Weber Christopher. 2007. The Political Consequences of Perceived Threat and Felt Insecurity. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 614 (1):131153.
Huddy Leonie, Feldman Stanley, and Cassese Erin. 2007. On the Distinct Political Effects of Anxiety and Anger. In The Affect Effect, edited by W. Russell Neuman, George E. Marcus, Ann N. Crigler and Michael MacKuen, 202230. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Huddy Leonie, Feldman Stanley, Capelos Theresa, and Provost Colin. 2002. The Consequences of Terrorism: Disentangling the Effects of Personal and National Threat. Political Psychology 23 (3):485509.
Jacobson Gary C. 2007. A Divider, Not a Uniter: George W. Bush and the American People. New York: Pearson/Longman.
Jaslow Ryan. 2013. Violent Video Games and Mass Violence: A Complex Link. CBS News, 18 February. Available from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/violent-video-games-and-mass-violence-a-complex-link/, accessed August 2015.
Joslyn Mark R., and Haider-Markel Donald P.. 2013. The Politics of Causes: Mass Shootings and the Cases of the Virginia Tech and Tucson Tragedies. Social Sciences Quarterly 94 (2):410423.
Kam Cindy D., and Kinder Donald R.. 2007. Terror and Ethnocentrism: Foundations of American Support for the War on Terrorism. Journal of Politics 69 (2):320338.
Kellerman Gabriella Rosen. 2012. Diagnosing Adam Lanza. Atlantic, 16 December. Available from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/12/diagnosing-adam-lanza/266322/, accessed August 2015.
Kingdon John W. 1984. Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies. Boston, MA: Little Brown.
Kissner Jason. 2016. Are Active Shootings Temporally Contagious? An Empirical Assessment. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 31 (1):4858.
Korte Gregory. 2015. 11 Mass Shootings, 11 Speeches: How Obama Has Responded. USA Today, 2 October. Available from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/10/02/11-mass-shootings-11-speeches-how-obama-has-responded/73177526/, accessed October 2015.
Krouse William J., and Richardson Daniel J.. 2015. Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999–2013, R44126. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Kunda Ziva. 1990. The Case for Motivated Reasoning. Psychological Bulletin 108 (3):480498.
Langman Peter. 2009. Rampage School Shooters: A Typology. Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (1):7986.
Lankford Adam. 2016. Are America’s Public Mass Shooters Unique? A Comparative Analysis of Offenders in the United States and Other Countries. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 40 (2):171183.
Lankford Adam, and Hakim Nayab. 2011. From Columbine to Palestine: A Comparative Analysis of Rampage Shooters in the United States and Volunteer Suicide Bombers in the Middle East. Aggression and Violent Behavior 16 (2):98107.
Lawrence Regina G., and Birkland Thomas A.. 2004. Guns, Hollywood, and School Safety: Defining the School‐Shooting Problem Across Public Arenas. Social Science Quarterly 85 (5):11931207.
Lodge Milton, and Taber Charles. 2000. Three Steps Toward a Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning. In Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice, and the Bounds of Rationality, edited by Arthur Lupia, Mathew D. McCubbins and Samuel L. Popkin, 183213. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Maguire Brendan, Weatherby Georgie Ann, and Mathers Richard A.. 2002. Network News Coverage of School Shootings. Social Science Journal 39 (3):465470.
Marcus George E., Neuman W. Russell, and MacKuen Michael. 2000. Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Margalit Yotam. 2013. Explaining Social Policy Preferences: Evidence from the Great Recession. American Political Science Review 107 (1):80103.
May Reuben A. Buford. 2000. Race Talk and Local Collective Memory Among African American Men in a Neighborhood Tavern. Qualitative Sociology 23 (2):201214.
McGinty Emma E., Webster Daniel W., and Barry Colleen L.. 2013. Effects of News Media Messages about Mass Shootings on Attitudes Toward Persons with Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies. American Journal of Psychiatry 170 (5):494501.
Melzer Scott. 2009. Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War. New York: New York University Press.
Merolla Jennifer L., and Zechmeister Elizabeth J.. 2009. Democracy at Risk: How Terrorist Threats Affect the Public. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Muschert Glenn W. 2009. Frame-Changing in the Media Coverage of a School Shooting: The Rise of Columbine as a National Concern. Social Science Journal 46 (1):164170.
Muschert Glenn W., and Carr Dawn. 2006. Media Salience and Frame Changing Across Events: Coverage of Nine School Shootings, 1997–2001. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 83 (4):747766.
Newman Benjamin J. 2015. A Crisis in Context Local Conditions, National Events, and Economic Policy Mood. American Politics Research 43 (6):10411073.
Newman Benjamin J., Todd K Hartman, 2017. “Replication Data for: Mass Shootings and Public Support for Gun Control”,  https://dx.doi.org/doi:10.7910/DVN/LL6UTV, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:yiwg344pSa0+HjAcW0De4A==.
Pew Research Center. 2012. Wide Partisan Gap Exists Over Gun Control. Fact Tank, 31 December. Available from http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/wide-partisan-gap-exists-over-gun-control-3/, accessed August 2015.
Pierson Paul. 1993. When Effect Becomes Cause: Policy Feedback and Political Change. World Politics 45:595628.
PublicMind Poll. 2015. Republicans Advocate for More Guns to Reduce Mass Shootings and Cite Terrorism as the Bigger Threat; Democrats Point to Regulation as the Best Way to Reduce Gun Violence, 20 October. Available from http://view2.fdu.edu/publicmind/2015/151020/, accessed October 2015.
Rogers Jonathan. 2014. A Communotropic Theory of Economic Voting. Electoral Studies 36:107116.
Schaffner Brian, and Ansolabehere Stephen. 2015. 2010–2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study Panel Survey. Harvard Dataverse, V3, Available from doi: 10.7910/DVN/TOE8I1, accessed August 2015.
Schlenger William E., Caddell Juesta M., Ebert Lori, Jordan B. Kathleen, Rourke Kathryn M., Wilson David, Thalji Lisa, Dennis J. Michael, Fairbank John A., and Kulka Richard A.. 2002. Psychological Reactions to Terrorist Attacks: Findings from the National Study of Americans’ Reactions to September 11. Journal of the American Medical Association 288 (5):581588.
Schuster Mark A., Stein Bradley D., Jaycox Lisa H., Collins Rebecca L., Marshall Grant N., Elliott Marc N., Zhou Annie J., Kanouse David E., Morrison Janina L., and Berry Sandra H.. 2001. A National Survey of Stress Reactions After the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks. New England Journal of Medicine 345 (20):15071512.
Sears David O. 1965. Effects of the Assassination of President Kennedy on Political Partisanship. In The Kennedy Assassination and the American Public, edited by Bradley S. Greenberg and Edwin B. Parker, 305326. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Sears David O. 2002. Long-Term Psychological Consequences of Political Events. In Political Psychology, edited by Kristen R. Monroe, 249269. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Sears David O., and McConahay John B.. 1973. The Politics of Violence: The New Urban Blacks and the Watts Riot. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sears David O., and Valentino Nicholas A.. 1997. Politics Matters: Political Events as Catalysts for Preadult Socialization. American Political Science Review 91 (1):4565.
Sheatsley Paul B., and Feldman Jacob J.. 1964. The Assassination of President Kennedy: A Preliminary Report on Public Reactions and Behavior. Public Opinion Quarterly 28 (2):189215.
Sheatsley Paul B., and Feldman Jacob J.. 1965. A National Survey on Public Reactions and Behavior. In The Kennedy Assassination and the American Public, edited by Bradley S. Greenberg and Edwin B. Parker, 149177. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Silver Nate. 2012. Party Identity in a Gun Cabinet. FiveThirtyEight, 18 December. Available from http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/in-gun-ownership-statistics-partisan-divide-is-sharp/, accessed August 2015.
Skitka Linda J., Bauman Christopher W., and Mullen Elizabeth. 2004. Political Tolerance and Coming to Psychological Closure Following the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks: An Integrative Approach. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30 (6):743756.
Smith Tom W. 2002. Public Opinion about Gun Policies. The Future of Children 12 (2):154163.
Smith Tom W., Rasinski Kenneth A., and Toce Marianna. 2001. America Rebounds: A National Study of Public Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Spitzer Robert J. 2011. The Politics of Gun Control, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge.
Squires Peter. 2000. Gun Culture or Gun Control? Firearms and Violence: Safety and Society. New York: Routledge.
Taber Charles S., and Lodge Milton. 2006. Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs. American Journal of Political Science 50 (3):755769.
Tomz Michael, Wittenberg Jason, and King Gary. 2003. Clarify: Software for Interprreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Journal of Statistical Software [Online]8 (1).
Traugott Michael, Brader Ted, Coral Deborah, Curtin Richard, Featherman David, Groves Robert, Hill Martha, Jackson James, Juster Thomas, Kahn Robert, Kennedy Courtney, Kinder Donald, Pennell Beth-Ellen, Shapiro Matthew, Tessler Mark, Weir David, and Willis Robert. 2002. How Americans Responded: A Study of Public Reactions to 9/11/01. Political Science & Politics 35 (3):511516.
Trope Yaacov, and Liberman Nira. 2003. Temporal Construal. Psychological Review 110 (3):403421.
Velez Yamil, and Martin David. 2013. Sandy the Rainmaker: The Electoral Impact of a Super Storm. PS: Political Science & Politics 46 (2):313323.
Wheldon Kathleen. 2015. Despite More Shootings, Americans Are Less Supportive of Tougher Gun Control. Huffington Post, 31 August. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathleen-weldon/shootings-guns-and-public_b_8065682.html, accessed October 2015.
Wong Cara J. 2010. Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics: Geographic, National, and Racial Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wozniak Kevin H. 2015. Public Opinion About Gun Control Post-Sandy Hook. Criminal Justice Policy Review 28 (3):255278.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary Materials

Newman and Hartman Dataset
Dataset

 Unknown
PDF
Supplementary Materials

Newman and Hartman supplementary material
Appendices A-C

 PDF (744 KB)
744 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 600
Total number of PDF views: 708 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 3245 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 2nd October 2017 - 12th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.