US school massacre fuels social media debate on guns

By on Friday, December 21st, 2012

The Newtown school massacre has fueled an unprecedented wave of social media discussion on US gun control, with the overwhelming majority favoring new limits on firearms, a study showed Thursday.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that on blogs and Twitter, gun policy accounted for almost 30 percent of the social media conversation examined.

This exceeded even expressions of sympathy in the three days following the December 14 massacre that left 26 dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the report said. Most of the victims were six and seven year olds.

The social media response is far different from what occurred following the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Pew said.

In the first three days after that incident, the discussion about gun laws represented only three percent of the social media conversation, according to Pew.

In the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, outrage at the shooting suspect and the role of race overshadowed questions on gun rights.

In the days following the Connecticut massacre, comments advocating gun control were far more numerous than those defending current gun laws, the study said.

On Twitter, 64 percent called for gun control reform versus 21 percent defending gun rights, Pew found.

“Gun law is just ridiculous, no man, regardless of their history, should be allowed to walk into a shop and purchase an object built to kill,” said one tweet cited in the study, while another said, “Don’t pray, change your looney gun laws.”

Some 46 percent of blogs posts during this time called for reform while 21 percent opposed them.

In addition to the social media analysis, Pew said the opinion pages of a mix of 11 newspapers of different sizes were also heavily in favor of new controls on guns.

Overall, 33 of the 51 op-eds and editorials written about the shooting focused on the gun law element. And 25 called for stricter gun control or enforcement while just four defended current gun rights.

One such call came from The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof who wrote: “We even regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips — but lawmakers don’t have the gumption to stand up to the National Rifle Association.”

But a different view came from Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, who wrote in USA Today, “Hopefully, the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the gun-free zone laws that are in fact criminal-safe zones.”

The massacre shocked the country, and may have shifted the political debate on firearms in US society after years of gun lobby ascendancy.

America has suffered an epidemic of gun violence over the last three decades, including 62 mass shooting sprees since 1982, three of the deadliest in the second half of this year alone.

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