There’s a two-week window after a major mass shooting during which the media talks extensively about the shooting and gun control. But after that period, the attention on guns typically fades away until the next time a mass shooting happens.
And that’s about where we are with the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
For two weeks, teenage activists kept our attention on the shooting and gun control at astoundingly high levels. And now we’re starting to see the coverage drop.
This story was bound to fade, just like any other story. It’s what gun rights activists rely on; they know public outcry will eventually move on to another issue.
But there are still signs that this time might be different.
The data reveals that even though the conversation around the shooting itself is fading, the attention on gun control is actually persisting; it’s staying in America’s consciousness longer than virtually any other time in recent memory. And it means this time period is crucial for gun control activists who want to keep this conversation going.
The media is talking more about gun control than we were at this point after Sandy Hook
What’s been fascinating about the media cycle on gun control is how consistent it has been since the Florida shooting.
After other major shootings, like at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, there were massive spikes that faded away quickly. This time, though, we’re seeing several spikes in coverage that push attention past that two-week window:
One thing that made the gun control debate persist after Sandy Hook was both the White House and congressional Democrats pushing gun control policy and keeping it in the news. The Orlando nightclub shooting also spurred two weeks of coverage on gun control, but it didn’t get that second wind from Congress or the White House.
This gun control debate appears to be following in the footsteps of Sandy Hook. Not only are lawmakers engaging with gun control proposals, but President Trump recently hosted a gun control meeting during which he split with his own party on several issues. All of this creates news for the media to keep attention on gun control.
America’s interest in gun control is also persisting longer than it did after Sandy Hook
When we look at Google search volume after Sandy Hook, we can see that there was a sharp drop-off in interest around gun control after about a week.
This time, however, the descent has been much less pronounced — and it seems we’ve hit a plateau of interest around gun control.
Now, one thing that contributed to the quick dip after Sandy Hook was the timing; the shooting was on December 14, 2012, which meant news coverage was running up against the holidays, which inevitably dampens interest in anything of substance. Interest in gun control came roaring back in January 2013, with Congress and the White House keeping the debate in the news.
But for virtually every other mass shootings, attention quickly faded to nil after the two-week mark.
This is why the timing of the planned student walkout on March 14 and the gun control rally on March 24 is so important. Those events are well outside the two-week window, during a period when most gun control conversations have completely faded away after a shooting. Americans have demonstrated time and again that we easily move our attention to the next shiny thing, which is exactly what gun rights activists have relied on for years.
But these events give the media another shiny object at which to point our cameras. For better or worse, this might be the only way — outside of yet another mass shooting — to prolong the ephemeral gun control debate.