Reason Reviews The Shooting Cycle

February 12th, 2014

On the Reason Blog, Jesse Walker reviews the article I co-authored with Shelby Baird, “The Shooting Cycle.” Walker writes:

Josh Blackman, a law professor, and Shelby Baird, a political scientist, have published an interestingpaper in the Connecticut Law Review on what they call “the shooting cycle”—the pattern the public reaction seems to follow in the wake of a widely covered mass shooting. Carefully refraining from either endorsing or opposing any sort of gun legislation, the authors help us understand both the misleading media coverage that such crimes inspire and the trouble that gun control proponents have had translating public outrage over those crimes into new laws.

The paper begins by making the point that, contrary to the impression given by much of the press, mass shootings are very rare and have not been happening more frequently. (They do note a recent increase in “active shooter events,” which unlike mass shootings need not involve more than one death, though even those may have peaked in 2010. The raw numbers in this category are too low to draw any strong conclusions from them, for reasons Michael Siegel explained in a similar context.) Blackman and Baird then examine the various cognitive biases that lead people to exaggerate some threats while minimizing others.

I differ with Blackman and Baird on a few points here and there, but their paper is a sharp take on a widely misunderstood phenomenon. Read the whole thing here.