A common explanation for the absence of stringent gun control laws in the United States is that incidents of acute gun violence, while generating strong emotional reactions, do not propel the American public into political action. Leveraging the as-good-as random timing of prominent public mass shootings within the past decade and a novel and immense array of large-scale proprietary and publicly available data, we demonstrate that these events consistently cause surges in a range of political actions—including information-seeking on Google, streaming public-facing documentaries on gun policy, social discussion of gun policy on Twitter, signing of gun policy petitions on Change.org, and donating to PACs related to the gun policy debate, but only for mass shootings that garner significant media attention. However, we also find evidence that in some cases (i.e. discussion and information acquisition) these violence-induced upswings in public engagement with gun policy are polarizing—with spikes in activity both oriented towards gun control and towards gun rights.
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