While it certainly seems like mass shootings are reaching epidemic proportions, they’re not. While the frequency of them may have increased over the last year or so, many on the pro-gun side have been quick to point out that they’re still not the “epidemic” they’re being portrayed as.
Still, the media persists in perpetuating the myth.
In fairness, us saying something doesn’t exactly make it so. However, when a criminologist–someone who actually studies crime and crime statistics–says it’s not an epidemic, folks might want to listen.
But Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, the leading researcher on the topic for the past 35 years, tells Reason, “There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings.” The number of incidents and casualties are simply too small to make such claims and, he stresses, the media coverage of shootings often ends up creating a false sense that gun violence—which is at or near historic lows—is ubiquitous and growing.
So why does the media do it?
The answer is simple. They do it because we live in a world where clicks drive revenue.
Once, people picked up the newspaper because they wanted to see what was in the news. Most towns had a daily newspaper that serviced their area and maybe a weekly or two that covered either their particular small town or looked at local news in a slightly different way. I used to own one of those weekly newspapers, so I’m somewhat familiar with them.
People bought the newspaper regardless of what was on the cover. Sure, there were exceptions. A sensational headline would grab attention and sell a few more papers, but it couldn’t really be sustained in that way. Besides, old-school newspapermen shunned that sort of thing. It was cheap.
Today, though, most “print” media is consumed online. Further, people are able to ignore articles that don’t grab their attention. That means they have to snag someone quickly.
While most people decry “clickbait,” the truth is that clickbait headlines work. Especially since an alarming number of people don’t read much past the headline anyway. They’ll see that, read that, share that, but rarely bother to read the articles.
To get them to do that, they have to give you something that will grab your attention. Something like how mass shootings are an epidemic, how they’re everywhere and it’s just a matter of time before you’re smack dab in the middle of the next Las Vegas.
That gets your attention and you’re more likely to click, read, and share it.
Words like “epidemic” are going to scare you more than “perhaps a slight increase over the annual average,” now isn’t it? Striking language is generally considered good writing, after all, so it’s easy to justify it yourself if you’re in the media. Plus, they kind of believe it, too. They actually buy into the idea that there is this massive epidemic of mass shootings.
Now, is it willful self-deception or just them being wrong? Catch me in a different mood and I’ll give you a different answer, to be honest. You probably already have your own take on it.
However, at the end of the day, there’s just no evidence of any such epidemic. We don’t even know if they’re on the rise, really. It’s just too few of them to really make the case one way or another, so why don’t we all just hold our horses before we start passing laws that have an impact on people’s lives. Let’s hold off and see if the problem really is getting worse first.