Why mass shootings don't lead to gun control

Mass shootings happen with numbing frequency in the United States. Despite the extraordinary tragedy of these events, such as the shooting at Columbine High School twenty years ago this week, little progress has been made in policy and law to prevent them from happening again.

To better understand the source of political paralysis on , Brian Schaffner, the Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies at Tufts, along with University of Massachusetts doctoral student David Barney, took a close look at how influence public sentiment toward gun control.

Their study, published recently in the British Journal of Political Science, showed that after each mass shooting, rather than moving toward , public opinion became more polarized, with no net movement toward or away from stricter gun regulations. Democrats were more likely to support greater gun control, while Republicans were inclined to support fewer regulations.

With the shootings and political locked in a repeating cycle, Tufts Now asked Schaffner, who has appointments in both the Department of Political Science and the Tisch College of Civic Life, what he learned from the study, and what strategies those advocating for effective gun laws and public policy need to take to break that cycle.

Tufts Now: Your research shows that mass shootings seem to polarize opinions and positions on gun policy, leading to a net zero change in overall opinion and limited legislative action. What do you think is the dynamic that leads to polarization rather than consensus? Are we primed to have our opinions magnified, rather than changed?

Brian Schaffner: I think it is natural to expect when there is a tragic mass shooting event that opinion my become decisively more supportive of gun control . But what we actually see is, if anything, rigidity.

In our study, we tested whether people living near mass shooting events were likely to shift their views. What we found is that Democrats became even more supportive of stricter gun control legislation, while Republicans became even more opposed to it. I think the reason for this is that each tragic mass shooting brings an intense debate about gun control, and partisans mostly follow the lead of what the politicians from their own party are saying about the issue. 

What is different about the cultural and social context of other nations that experience mass shootings, such as Christ Church in New Zealand and Port Arthur in Australia, where instead of polarization, there was movement toward consensus on gun control?

There are a lot of things that make our politics unique from that in other nations. Institutionally, New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, meaning that it is much easier for the government to act decisively. Here, politicians must cope with divided government, which makes it much harder to pass important legislation. Additionally, our politics are now so polarized along partisan lines and so few members of Congress are in competitive districts, which means that legislators are often more worried about what their base—those who vote in primaries—think than they are what broader opinion looks like on an issue. 

What can U.S. advocacy groups and policymakers seeking tightened gun control learn from those experiences and your research?

For those interested in passing serious gun control legislation, I think there are a couple of lessons. First, I think focusing on passing laws at the state level, particularly in states where the political climate is more favorable, is a good approach. I believe you saw movement like this after the Parkland shooting in particular.

Second, I think gun control advocates especially need to think about a long-term strategy for generating fundamental change in public opinion on this issue, rather than hoping to see opinion shift quickly in reaction to tragic events. This probably means trying to influence the views of young Americans who are just coming into the electorate, but who could serve as a strong basis of support for gun control legislation for many years to come.

It may also mean trying to influence views via non-political avenues—for example, through narratives on television shows, movies, and so on. I suspect that there are lessons to be learned from gay rights activists who have had tremendous success in moving public opinion in the past few decades.

Which groups might gun control advocates target to generate more support for their cause?

One thing that is interesting in the data I've looked at is that independents often hold views that are closer to Republicans than to Democrats when it comes to gun control. Since independents should be less tied to following their party on this issue, that might be one place where minds can be changed.

There is also a pretty large gender gap in attitudes toward gun control among Republicans and independents. In fact, in our most recent survey, over half of Republican women support banning assault rifles compared to only about 30 percent of Republican men. Thus, gun control advocates are quite right to be appealing especially to women on this issue. 


Explore further

Anxiety surrounding mass shootings briefly closes ideological divides

More information: David J Barney et al. Reexamining the Effect of Mass Shootings on Public Support for Gun Control, British Journal of Political Science (2019). DOI: 10.1017/S0007123418000352
Provided by Tufts University
Citation: Why mass shootings don't lead to gun control (2019, April 19) retrieved 18 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-mass-dont-gun.html
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Apr 19, 2019
I can explain all the unfathomable questions you don't seem to understand Mr. Silver. The people in the US are actual citizens and not peasants of the royalty like the nations you seem to think so much of. When you learn the difference between the two you will not need to ask those questions.

Apr 19, 2019
"Why mass shootings don't lead to gun control" ... except when they do lead to gun control. Connecticut? Co? FL? NZ?

Apr 19, 2019
"Why mass shootings don't lead to gun control"

Because the once who would most vocally advocate for it are dead.

Apr 19, 2019
I can explain all the unfathomable questions you don't seem to understand Mr. Silver. The people in the US are actual citizens and not peasants of the royalty like the nations you seem to think so much of. When you learn the difference between the two you will not need to ask those questions.


Simple solution. Execute every Republican who breathes.

Apr 19, 2019
Because logical people realize that it is the disturbed person behind the gun that needs work, needs help and if all else fails then they need to be controlled... and maybe guns should be controlled for that person too.

Apr 19, 2019
Maybe the school system has a fundamental problem. I feel robbed of my childhood by those tyrannical day jails. The shooters are definitely messed up and wrong, but so is the state slave indoctrination prison day camp system.

Apr 19, 2019
The important question no one ever asks when liberals propose a gun control law after a mass shooting is, "how would your law have prevented this?" The answer is always: it wouldn't have.

Democrats were more likely to support greater gun control, while Republicans were inclined to support fewer regulations

A famously corrected study of personality differences between "liberals" and "conservatives" noted (after correction) that liberals have a much higher "Psychoticism" score, meaning they have a greater tendency toward "tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism". Liberals want to compel everyone to behave a certain way while conservatives are content with punishing only misbehavers. Impulsively responding to a mass shooting with ineffectual gun control laws suits the liberal personality.

https://retractio...-traits/

Apr 19, 2019
Because logical people realize that it is the disturbed person behind the gun that needs work, needs help and if all else fails then they need to be controlled... and maybe guns should be controlled for that person too.
Only if you get to them before they start shooting. And that requires tax money to treat them.

Sure would like to know how much money it costs to deal with these mass shootings as opposed to free psychiatric and psychological care.

Apr 20, 2019
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, meaning that it is much easier for the government to act decisively.

That is one stupid statement. It should be rather the opposite. In a presidential democracy the concentration of power in one individual should benefit a faster and more resolute decision making. Unlike in parliamentary democracies where action can be taken only by consensus.
The real difference is that in NZ people have a brain, and use common sense

Apr 20, 2019
How do you get to be an honored civics professor without understanding half of society?

Your thesis, that those who object to ever-increasing gun control are doing so due to blind loyalty to party leadership, is absurd.

There are people who, believe it or not, trust individuals more than government. Simple. That's it. There are fundamental issues of individualism vs. statism underpinning all this firearm debate drama. I'm not a Republican or a Democrat. I'm actually a moderate progressive. But my individual rights are paramount, and self-protection is chief among these.

Apr 20, 2019
The important question no one ever asks when liberals propose a gun control law after a mass shooting is, "how would your law have prevented this?" The answer is always: it wouldn't have.

And yet many otrher countries don't have mass shootings on nearly teh csale the US has. Why do you think that is? Because US citizens are naturally stupid and violent, or what?

So should there be mandaory sedation or anger managemeent classes for kids (and adults) in the US?

Only if you get to them before they start shooting. And that requires tax money to treat them.

Exactly. A law would require no tax money. They would still be angry indiviuals - but they would no longer be destructive to the rest of society.

Apr 20, 2019
The people in the US are actual citizens and not peasants of the royalty like the nations you seem to think so much of.

Australia and New Zealand are both independent parliamentary democracies, and their citizens are also "actual citizens" of their respective countries, not "peasants of the royalty" as you so fatuously claim. In each country it took only one shooting massacre (Port Arthur in 1996; Christchurch in 2019) for the government - with overwhelming public support - to introduce gun control measures to prevent such incidents from occurring again.

The perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre, an Australian, could not have committed his crime in Australia because he would have been unable to purchase the assault weapons used for his attack. Thanks to his deadly efforts, and the government's popular response to them, that will now be the case in New Zealand also.

Apr 21, 2019
Those so called citizens of England related monarchies ARE 'peasants' They are often shocked to discover this in official literature found in genealogy studies. And, no, they lost their ancient heritage of rights to be armed, because they were conquered and subjugated by a province of France, Normandie. The Norman 'Duke' invaded, conquered and disarmed them. Thus was born the custom of defenselessness that persists to this day. They call themselves 'British subjects', not citizens, re-inforcing their servitudeinal status as less than full citizens of a full democracy...which, again, England is NOT. All laws passed by their assemblies, one of which is a house of the upper 'nobility'....second check on peasant independence... have to be approved by a popinjay called a 'King', or 'Queen'. Which makes the english even less than men, peasant or whatever. Oliver Cromwell tried to make men of them, but failed. When he died, the witless wonders ran back to servitude.

Apr 21, 2019
Their is no transparent utility in our Democratic party's psychotic obsession with disarming loyal, law abiding Americans while leaving criminals armed and unpunished even for using weapons in crimes. By the way, we are criminals in prison systems with martial arts skills and the physiques to implement those skills. We never take this last into account when sentencing criminals. Weapons controls should include muscle weakening or even disablement to protect potential victims when they are released. Non criminals are too often held at disadvantage ...e.g- an 85 year old debilitated woman is legally held the equal of a 300 lb brute of a iron-pumped up martial arts expert and hardened veteran of hundreds of fights with equals. Hey they have no weapons but their fists, right? People in this world are smarter than that, but politics and egos, money and religions cause folks to not think logically, and to use neither judgment nor intelligence nor heart.

Apr 21, 2019
American people have traditionally wanted means of self defense, and traditionally needed them. We need them now more than in many times in our history. Fifty years ago , a nut job shot up a restaurant in Killeen, Texas, Luby's Cafetaria. NO one there was armed. NO one stopped him til police arrived......too late; and he was almost out of ammo. Wounded in firefight with police, and dying, he shot himself in the head, the story goes. Point was the whole tragedy could have been stopped if even ONE person had a concealed carry permit and was able to stop this, and had the courage to do so..and did. That is a lot of 'ands', but that is what it takes to stop an armed criminal. Force and the will to use it. A weapon is just a tool. it has no soul. People have souls. All the laws in the world did not keep one SMG out of the hands of the Russian mafia. The USSR had all kinds of 'gun control'. The Same mafia is here now too. Russian mafia, and ISIS, and Chinese Triads.

Apr 21, 2019
The fatal flaw in all of this is the fact that, in order to make it look like lawmakers are doing their jobs, they have to be passing laws. This is why lawmakers love issues like gun control. It allows for endless churning without actually getting anywhere. Libs pass laws and conservatives rescind them.

This ensures that real facts and real solutions will NEVER see the light of day. Real solutions are counterproductive to the democratic system under which we live. This system depends on distortion, fear mongering, tribalism, and corruption to operate.

This is in truth the actual victimization. Our inherent tribalism means that we will never be able to govern ourselves effectively. We should give up this artifice and accept the FACT that we are living under a hidden meritocracy that keeps us entertained and engaged while ensuring that we will never get enough power to destroy ourselves and the world along with us.

It was never our world. Its THEIR world.

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