Two weeks ago, Nikolas Cruz allegedly walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and shot 14 students and three adults to death. More people might have died but Cruz’s weapon apparently jammed.
The aftermath of such deadly violence has generally been predictable: assessments of the shooter’s personal history, remembrances of those killed, a tug-of-war over gun-control policies that ends up nowhere. And, a few weeks later, the shooting fades into the background noise.
There are some signs, though, that this time might be different. For one thing, in recent days the coverage on the three major cable news networks has focused more on students at the school — many of whom are agitating for new gun-control laws — than on the alleged shooter.
The subject of gun control itself has had unusual staying power on cable news relative to other recent shooting events. The average amount of time spent discussing gun control on the three major cable networks two weeks after the shooting is higher post-Parkland than it was after any other major recent shooting, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. (As President Barack Obama began pushing for new gun- control laws, the coverage of Newtown subsequently increased.)
More broadly, online search interest in “gun control” in the United States spiked after Parkland. Data for February is preliminary (since the month isn’t over), but the search term has generated about half as much interest as it did after Newtown to this point.
But that obscures the recent trend. The common pattern after a mass shooting is what we saw after the massacre in Las Vegas last October: a spike, and then interest fades.
(We’ve included other shootings in this chart for context; you can read more about those incidents in this previous Washington Post analysis. Each search is relative to its own time period. A value of “100” is the most interest in gun control in the month-and-a-half around the shooting incident.)
After Newtown, the search interest lasted a bit longer, rising again when legislation was being considered.
A brief, ultimately futile push for new laws after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 spiked interest in gun control, but that quickly faded.
After Parkland, though, search interest has remained high. Through a week after the Parkland shooting, search interest stayed higher than the week after any other recent shooting. (The recent drop should be taken with a grain of salt; Google adjusts data over time.)
One of the clever organizing tactics employed by the Parkland students was setting a date for a major rally at the end of March, meaning that they could continue to push on the subject for weeks leading up to that rally. Progressive organizations have leveraged that sustained attention to pressure corporations to sever relationships with the National Rifle Association.
Whether that constant pressure might change how Congress works is, of course, another question entirely.