Mathematics ties media coverage of gun control to upticks in gun purchases

Mathematics ties media coverage of gun control to upticks in gun purchases
For the first time, researchers have shown a causal link between print news media coverage of US gun control policy in the wake of mass shooting events and increases in firearm acquisition, particularly in states with the least restrictive gun laws. Credit: NYU Tandon: Shinnosuke Nakayama

For the first time, researchers have shown a causal link between print news media coverage of U.S. gun control policy in the wake of mass shooting events and increases in firearm acquisition, particularly in states with the least restrictive gun laws.

The results of a study led by researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, in collaboration with faculty at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Northeastern University, are rooted in a data-driven approach that reveals causal relationships, rather than mere correlations. It is the first study to quantify the influence of news media stories on prevalence.

"Media Coverage and Firearm Acquisition in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting" was published today in Nature Human Behaviour.

Increases in firearm purchases following mass shootings are well-observed phenomena, likely driven by concerns that these events could lead to more restrictive gun controls. Lead author Maurizio Porfiri, NYU Tandon professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, noted that this is the first study to empirically examine—and confirm—the link between news stories specifically about gun policy and increased acquisition of firearms. However, in one surprising finding, the analysis revealed no causal link between an actual mass shooting and gun purchases. Previous studies had noted a correlation between the two.

The latest study quantified influences among the three variables: mass shooting events, media coverage of gun control policy and regulations, and firearm acquisition. Researchers analyzed 69 mass shootings in the United States between January 1999 and December 2017, gathering data on the number of firearm background checks per month (a proxy measure for gun purchases), along with all print news coverage of firearm control policies that appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post during that same period—more than 9,700 documents.

The increases in firearm background checks were most pronounced in states with the least restrictive gun control policies—including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, and Oregon—and less dramatic in states with stronger restrictions on gun ownership. The team found no significant links between other variables.

"This study provides the critical insight that media coverage appears to mediate the increase in firearm acquisition following mass shootings," Porfiri said.

"The public health impact of firearm-related physical injury has dramatically increased over recent years and is now a leading cause of death," said James A. Macinko, a co-author of the study and professor of health policy and management and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "Our study suggests the need for dialogue around how mass shooting events are discussed by the press, in order to find ways to mitigate unintended consequences."

The team employed a mathematical construct known as entropy transfer, which can establish causal links between multiple variables by examining the degree to which one variable influences another. In these analyses, influence is defined as an improved ability to make predictions about the future status of a variable (in this case, background checks) based on present knowledge of another variable (media stories about gun control policy).

To further test the validity of the causal link, researchers also searched for influential relationships between mass shootings, background checks, and media coverage of gun-related topics that excluded discussion of gun control policies or regulations. The only link discovered was obvious: a between and media coverage of those events. The team also probed potential causal links between firearm background checks and media coverage of unemployment, which has been linked to higher rates of violent crime and could theoretically prompt heightened interest in acquiring firearms for self-defense. None was found.

"The results establish the first step toward our aim of creating a mathematical model of the firearm ecosystem in the United States that explains the relationships among key events," said co-author Rifat Sipahi, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University. "Moving forward, one key aspect of such a model will be to understand how subsequent events unfold and how the presence of time delays between them influence the fate of the ecosystem."

Co-author Shinnosuke Nakayama, a postdoctoral fellow in Porfiri's laboratory, added: "As an ecologist, I see gun violence in the U.S. as complex ecological processes consisting of multiple agents interacting with each other and the environment. By identifying keystone agents and their ecological functions through rigorous statistics, we will be able to provide tools and transparent guidance for policy."

Raghu Ram Sattanapalle, a doctoral student in Porfiri's Dynamical Systems Laboratory, is also part of the research team.

"At the heart of NYU Tandon is a desire to develop technologies and knowledge that make the world safer, healthier, and more sustainable," said NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević. "This research embodies that goal, revealing new and important insights into one of the drivers behind the growth in the number of firearms in the United States. I congratulate Professor Porfiri and his collaborators on a thought-provoking paper that stands to have significant societal impact."

The researchers acknowledge several limitations to the study, including the small number of media outlets analyzed. Additionally, background checks are not a direct measure of gun purchases, although they are the closest proxy measure due to the lack of a nationwide gun registry. The study accounted for neither the number of people killed per mass shooting nor the circumstances under which the event took place—elements that can influence .


Explore further

Higher rates of mass shootings in US states with more relaxed gun control laws

More information: Media coverage and firearm acquisition in the aftermath of a mass shooting, Nature Human Behaviour (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-019-0636-0 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0636-0
Journal information: Nature Human Behaviour

Citation: Mathematics ties media coverage of gun control to upticks in gun purchases (2019, June 24) retrieved 18 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-mathematics-ties-media-coverage-gun.html
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User comments

Jun 24, 2019
So let me get this straight, thanks to the author of this article gun sales will go up. :-)
While I am all for guns in America, most author's of gun articles are against guns. Which means that the author of this article, knowing full well what would happen if he wrote this article, placed money and fame before his principles.

Guns and the personality traits that makes ownership of guns personally desirable are what makes america the protector of the free world. Without that trait we and the rest of the free world would end up as slaves.

Jun 24, 2019
So as we wait

Rderkis
So let me get this straight, thanks to the author of this article gun sales will go up. :-)
While I am all for guns in America, most author's of gun articles are against guns. Which means that the author of this article, knowing full well what would happen if he wrote this article, placed money and fame before his principles

For as the mass shootings
Encourage increased gun ownership
For as we wait
For this author
NYU Tandon School of Engineering
To
Come out with a follow up study
That links mass shootings
with the fact guns are owned
As
Now in greater numbers
For is there a causal link with gun owner ship and mass shooting
Or is it schoolchildren taking daddies gun into school
To settle a childish school play ground squabble
For take your pick
Its either daddies gun
Or
Mummies gun
A guns a gun
There all capable of mass shootings

Jun 24, 2019
...
(They're) all capable of mass shootings

Fixed that for ya... :-)
Guns are designed to do one thing - kill.
Since we don't need them to hunt any more, their main use is - well, many people haven't figured that out, yet...
Defense! Yeah, that's it!. [sarcasm]

Jun 24, 2019
And the winner of the "'Duh' of the Day" award goes to…

Jun 25, 2019
I know plenty of people who have shot guns all their lives. Some are hunters, some shoot targets. None are the thugs who shoot 34,000 people a year in the U.S. and kill 8000, nor the odd looney who goes on a rampage because 40 years of liberals telling him his lot in life isn't his fault finally made him snap.

Jun 25, 2019
Defense! Yeah, that's it!. [sarcasm]


No, that's not just it. Like I said "Americans pension for violence is what makes us willing to defend freedom over the whole world". Change that one trait and you change America and our willingness to take on the non free countries of the world. It would seem like the few mass shootings and drive bys we have, is a small price to pay for our freedom.


Jun 25, 2019
"Our study suggests the need for dialogue around how mass shooting events are discussed by the press, in order to find ways to mitigate unintended consequences."

It has become fashionable for the media to go far beyond the simple reporting of the facts to using every incident as the raw material from which to advocate their Woke Progressive policy agenda. I don't think that the facts of a mass murder move people to purchase firearms nearly as much as when all the media clamor for more gun control no matter what the facts were.

So I interpret this study as one that documents the unintended consequences of the ideology of contemporary journalism and media far more than anything else.


Jun 25, 2019
Yes. It's true that the Liberalised Socialist-inspired Media in the USA has been pushing hard the idea that all gun-ownership is evil and that it drives the owners and family members to commit crimes with the guns they own. The accusations are politically motivated as the Liberal Media is in lockstep with the gun-control lobby of the Democrat Party, the same Party of slavery and Jim Crow principles that was famous in the old southern, western and parts of the Northeast United States.
The guns that are used to kill innocent people are most often acquired by those who had no intention of killing anyone. Some owners forget to lock their weapons in a secured place like a gun safe.
But the majority of gun sales is meant for self-protection and family members, and also for hunting wild turkey and deer.
The point is that the criminal mind will have no problem in acquiring guns, and most often such people live in a region of the USA where gun ownership is against the law.

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