Search interest in gun control after Parkland had more staying power than usual

Search interest in gun control after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had more stay...

Posted: Mar 18, 2018 2:37 PM
Updated: Mar 18, 2018 2:37 PM

Search interest in gun control after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had more staying power compared to other recent mass shootings.

Google Trends (i.e. what people are searching for) data collected on Thursday suggests that interest in gun control is in decline a month after the shooting, but the data shows a more higher and more sustained interest in the issue than we've seen in the past.

On a scale from 0 (least searching) to 100 (most searching), search interest in gun control spiked the two days following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas. What's interesting is that searches really didn't decline for the first nine days after the massacre. Compared with scores of 96 and 100 on the day of the shooting and the day after, interest was at a 95 eight days after and 77 nine days after. Perhaps not surprisingly, this coincided with the day of and the day after the CNN town hall with the students of Parkland.

The longevity of interest made the Parkland shooting unusual compared to other shootings (Las Vegas, Newtown, Roseburg (Oregon), San Bernardino and Sutherland Springs). Although we cannot compare the total number of searches for each massacre because the way Google Trends data has been collected has changed over time, we can look at the relative number of searches in a given time period. In the aftermath of no other shooting were searches for gun control a week after the shooting nearly equal to the number in the immediate two days following it.

Searches over the past week (as of Thursday) have averaged a 25, which is only slightly higher than average of 19 for the other five shootings for this point after shooting. In a 24-hour news cycle, it's obviously difficult for any news story to stay at the top of people's minds for too long.

Does that mean interest in gun control won't rise again? Not necessarily.

News coverage seems to be staying high. According to the website Newsbank, which collects data on how times a phrase is used in newspapers throughout the country, there were 13,024 mentions of gun control from February 14 to February 28, 2018. From March 1 to March 15, there have been 12,342 mentions. In other words, there's been a drop-off, but not an overwhelming one. It's possible that if news coverage continues to stay high, then interest from Americans creep up.

And there is precedent for multiple spikes in American interest in gun control after a shooting. After Newtown, there were spikes in search interest following major news events such as the Senate trying to pass background checks in the spring of 2013. It's quite possible that interest will be reignited when there is a student march on Washington, DC., and around the country next weekend.

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