It’s a complex psychological issue. The public has coalesced more in opposition to terrorism than to mass shootings, which may appear to be uncontrollable events.
The mass shooting in Parkland, Fl., isn’t fading quietly like so many acts of gun violence before it. Nearly two weeks after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, media attention is still focused on the survivors and parents of victims who are demanding action on gun control. Some lawmakers are showing signs of responding. Is it a sign that Americans are actually changing the way they think about mass shootings and coalescing around a push for gun control? That may depend on whether the event moves people past psychological barriers that can keep Americans from thinking about shootings in the same way they think about about other acts of mass carnage, like terrorism, reports FiveThirtyEight.com.
Repeated exposure to violence can have a numbing effect, says psychology Prof. Yuval Neria of Columbia University. It can create the sense that shootings are uncontrollable events for which there’s no clear solution. As a result, the public may not exert much pressure in favor of a particular course of action. “A lot of people own guns or know someone who owns a gun or see a general benefit to guns,” says psychology Prof. Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon. “Positive feelings about something like guns can dampen the emotional response to an event like a shooting.” The U.S. is divided on who or what is to blame for gun violence. Terrorists’ ideologies and goals are relatively clear, while mass shooters’ motives tend to be diverse or opaque. The apparent randomness of mass shootings makes it hard to focus blame or anger, says Sarah Lowe, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University. This could help explain why repeated exposure to terrorist attacks in Israel is seen as having helped strengthen national unity, while mass shootings in the U.S. seem to sow divisions.