Nor would the timing be particularly surprising. Our analysis of the aftermath of recent high-profile mass shootings suggests that interest in addressing the problem tapers out after about three weeks — or this week, relative to the massacre in El Paso.
This is often the unstated goal of gun rights advocates. Allow the passion that immediately follows the attacks to cool, often demanding that politics wait until an appropriate mourning period has passed. Weeks later, most people have moved on to other issues — including members of Congress.
To assess how interest in mass shootings shifted over time, we looked at Google search interest for related terms in the months after high-profile mass shootings. “High-profile” is subjective, but we included incidents tallied by The Washington Post in which more than 10 people were killed or which attracted at least half as much search interest as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. (A list of the included incidents is at the bottom of this article.)
Searches for “shooting,” for example, spike immediately after each incident. On average, searches for the term return to pre-shooting level within about 20 days.
The data for individual shootings are independent, relative to the peaks in the period after each incident and not to one another. Some of the big spikes later in the graph are a function of later mass shootings: The shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif., last year, for example, came 11 days after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
Search interest in “gun control” follows a similar pattern. A spike after the incident and some extended interest. After about 20 days, though, things go back to where they were.
Immediately after shootings, search interest in the Second Amendment also spikes, though less dramatically.
Interest in the amendment has then spiked again about a month later, even controlling for those incidents in which shootings happen back-to-back. This may be in part a function of the delayed conversation over addressing shootings with legislation, something that is often presented as oppositional to the Second Amendment.
Interest in background checks has the same increase about a month after a shooting. Interestingly, though, searches for background checks never spike to the same extent as the other subjects. There’s a fairly constant background interest in the subject.
That’s not actually a good sign for proponents of new legislation. Interest in background checks generally tracks with interest in gun control more broadly; only the latter term spiked after the El Paso shooting.
Trump claimed Wednesday that some background checks were still possible. Maybe. But there’s an established pattern of elected officials whose politics align with Trump’s simply waiting out the energy and passion that inevitably follows mass shooting incidents.
Usually, by about now, people have moved on.
The incidents we included were Newtown, Conn., December 2012; Washington, September 2013; San Bernardino, Calif., December 2015; Orlando, June 2016; Dallas, July 2016; Las Vegas, October 2017; Sutherland Springs, Tex., November 2017; Parkland, Fla., February 2018; Pittsburgh, October 2018; Thousand Oaks, Calif., November 2018; and El Paso, August 2019.