The Shooting Cycle

Josh Blackman

South Texas College of Law Houston

Shelby Baird

Yale University

May 1, 2014

Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 46, 2014

The pattern is a painfully familiar one. A gunman opens fire in a public place, killing many innocent victims. After this tragedy, support for gun control surges. With a closing window for reform, politicians and activists quickly push for new gun laws. But as time elapses, support decreases. Soon enough, the passions fade, and society returns to the status quo.

We call this paradigm "the shooting cycle." This article provides the first qualitative and quantitative analysis of the shooting cycle, and explains how and why people and governments react to mass shootings.

This article proceeds in five parts. First, we bring empirical clarity to the debate over mass shootings, and show that contrary to popular opinion, they are fairly rare, and are not occurring more frequently. Second, relying on cognitive biases such as the availability heuristic, substitution effect, and cultural cognition theory, we demonstrate why the perception of risk and reaction to these rare and unfamiliar events are heightened. Third we chronicle the various stages of the shooting cycle: tragedy, introspection, action, divergence, and return to the status quo. During the earlier stages, emotional capture sets in, allowing politicians and activists to garner support for reform. But, after the spike, soon support for reform fades, and regresses to the mean. Fifth, with this framework, we view the year following the horrific massacre in Newtown through the lens of the shooting cycle. We conclude by addressing whether the shooting cycle can be broken.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 67

Keywords: Guns, Safety, Mass Shootings

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Date posted: January 6, 2014 ; Last revised: October 17, 2014

Suggested Citation

Blackman, Josh and Baird, Shelby, The Shooting Cycle (May 1, 2014). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 46, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2375010

Contact Information

Josh Blackman (Contact Author)
South Texas College of Law Houston ( email )
1303 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
United States
Shelby Baird
Yale University ( email )
New Haven, CT 06520
United States
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