Study Finds Causal Link Between Media Coverage And Gun Buying Frenzies

AP Photo/John Locher

Immediately after a mass shooting, it seems gun stores become inundated with people looking to buy new guns. In particular, they often ask for something similar to what the killer used.


Some have interpreted this as evidence that gun owners are sick people. After all, they think those who want those guns only want them because they’ve been “proven” or something. They think we want them because the killer used them to slaughter the innocent.

Nothing is further from the truth.

I’ve long maintained that those buying frenzies are spurred by concerns over gun control coming in and making those guns unavailable.

There’s now a study that suggests there is a causal link between these gun buying surges and the media coverage of gun control.

For the first time, researchers have shown a causal link between print news media coverage of U.S. gun control policy in the wake of mass shooting events and increases in firearm acquisition, particularly in states with the least restrictive gun laws.

The results of a study led by researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, in collaboration with faculty at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Northeastern University, are rooted in a data-driven approach that reveals causal relationships, rather than mere correlations. It is the first study to quantify the influence of news media stories on firearm prevalence.

“Media Coverage and Firearm Acquisition in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting” was published today in Nature Human Behaviour.

Increases in firearm purchases following mass shootings are well-observed phenomena, likely driven by concerns that these events could lead to more restrictive gun controls. Lead author Maurizio Porfiri, NYU Tandon professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, noted that this is the first study to empirically examine—and confirm—the link between news stories specifically about gun policy and increased acquisition of firearms. However, in one surprising finding, the analysis revealed no causal link between an actual mass shooting and gun purchases. Previous studies had noted a correlation between the two.


However, that “surprising finding” isn’t all that surprising. Gun buyers aren’t spurred on by mass shooters, but by the policy discussions that ensue after the shooting. If the media didn’t push a gun control narrative after such horrific events, people wouldn’t go and buy guns they fear are about to be banned.

While many would be gun buyers don’t buy into the media’s crap most of the time, they tend to believe most other people do. They see the media reports, the media pushing for gun control in their less than subtle way, and they freak. They figure a ban is coming, so they rush to the gun store to pick up whatever.

This study pretty much proves what we already knew.

That said, this isn’t a pro-gun study. The researchers make it clear they’re towing the anti-gun party line somewhere along the way. However, that doesn’t invalidate their findings necessarily. After all, when they’re confirming what we can see with our own eyes, there’s probably some validity to the findings.

Just don’t think the researchers are going to be setting up a booth at the next SHOT Show or anything.


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