Gun Control Debate Has Smaller Presence in Public Post-Newtown, Report Finds

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism produced an analysis of the gun control battle in the media and found public interest to have significantly decreased since the Newtown Massacre.

 

Advocates for gun control were the most vocal after Newtown and during the Senate debate over background checks. Other periods, though, show a mixed opinion on gun control legislation which is a more realistic portrayal of the gun conversation in the wider population.

Calls for gun control were the greatest immediately after Newton but quickly faded from the public conscience a week after. Although there were small surges in posts after President Obama announced a gun control plan and during the Senate debate, it never reached the same level of tweets. This has typically been the case with previous shootings and most political issues, as defined by the issues attention cycle.

However, Twitter users are not necessarily reflective of the general population. The Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that Twitter users are disproportionately younger, more urban, and less likely to be white. This, in turn, may reflect a bias for gun control because another survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds Blacks and urban-dwellers to believe gun control to be more important than gun rights. And to a lesser extent, those between the ages of 18 and 29 also favor gun control over gun rights compared to the general population.

 

Further, television news used "Newtown" and "gun control" similar amounts of time. This may mean that Newtown continues to evoke a strong reaction and connection to gun control in people's minds.

Moreover, President Obama was highly influential in leading the conversation about gun control. "Obama AND Gun" was the third most common term. No other individual or even Congress in general were tied to guns as much as he was. Further, Obama dominates every single gun control advocacy group in mentions by television news. "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" was used far fewer times and the "Brady Campaign" was not even measured. This is in contrast to the National Rifle Association appearing right after Obama in this chart, indicating the strong influence of the gun lobby group compared to its political opponents.