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Assault Weapons, Mass Shootings, and Options for Lawmakers

March 22, 2019

The focus of this brief is assault-style rifles, the new gun control measures passed in the U.S. at the end of 2018, the little to no action taken by the federal government, and actions taken by individual states to ban and regulate the sale and possession of assault-style weapons.

Can Mass Shootings be Stopped? To Address the Problem, We Must Better Understand the Phenomenon

May 22, 2018

The mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, happened nearly two decades ago, yet it remains etched in the national consciousness. Columbine spurred a national debate — from personal safety to the security of schools, workplaces, and other locations and to broader considerations of guns and mental illness. To this day, communities still are grappling to find solutions to the complex and multifaceted nature of mass shootings.

Mass Murder and the Mass Media: Understanding the Construction of the Social Problem of Mass Shootings in the US

May 1, 2016

Nearly as soon as the first shot is fired in a mass shooting, the news media already are rushing to break coverage, the likes of which typically last days or, in the more extreme cases, weeks. Though mass shootings are rare in occurrence, the disproportionate amount of coverage they receive in the media leads the public to believe that they occur at a much more regular frequency than they do. In order to understand how the public comes to understand mass shooting events, however, one first must understand how the stories are constructed by the media. The present study takes this important step by examining The New York Times coverage of 91 shootings occurring between 2000 and 2012. Using Best's (1987, 2006) three-stage model for the creation of social problems, this study considers the naming or defining of the issue, the incorporation of examples, and the use of statistics. The findings indicate that the coverage (a) overemphasized the shooters, (b) highlighted the most extreme examples for comparison, including Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing, and (c) relied heavily on the use of statistics, particularly victim counts, while omitting any national data that could ground these events in the larger discourse of violence in the nation. Thus, the disproportional coverage of mass shootings, both individually and as a collective phenomenon, serves to solidify these events as a social problem in the US. Directions for future research, as well as potential policy implications for the coverage, also are discussed.