Effects of News Media Messages About Mass Shootings on Attitudes Toward Persons With Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies

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Effects of News Media Messages About Mass Shootings on Attitudes Toward Persons With Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies

Category: Behavior, Firearm Policies|Journal: The American Journal of Psychiatry (full text)|Author: C Barry, D Webster, E McGinty|Year: 2013

Objective

In recent years, mass shootings by persons with serious mental illness have received extensive news media coverage. The authors test the effects of news stories about mass shootings on public attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and support for gun control policies. They also examine whether news coverage of proposals to prevent persons with serious mental illness from having guns exacerbates the public’s negative attitudes toward this group.

Method

The authors conducted a survey-embedded randomized experiment using a national sample (N=1,797) from an online panel. Respondents were randomly assigned to groups instructed to read one of three news stories or to a no-exposure control group. The news stories described, respectively, a mass shooting by a person with serious mental illness, the same mass shooting and a proposal for gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness, and the same mass shooting and a proposal to ban large-capacity magazines. Outcome measures included attitudes toward working with or living near a person with serious mental illness, perceived dangerousness of persons with serious mental illness, and support for gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness and for a ban on large-capacity magazines.

Results

Compared with the control group, the story about a mass shooting heightened respondents’ negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and raised support for gun restrictions for this group and for a ban on large-capacity magazines. Including information about the gun restriction policy in a story about a mass shooting did not heighten negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness or raise support for the restrictions.

Conclusions

The aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for gun control policies, but it also exacerbates negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness.

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