Publication Title

Statistics and Public Policy

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Department or Program


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Contagion, Mass shootings, Point process models


Mass public shootings have generated significant levels of fear in the recent years, with many observers criticizing the media for fostering a moral panic, if not an actual rise in the frequency of such attacks. Scholarly research suggests that the media can potentially impact the prevalence of mass shootings in two respects: (i) some individuals may be inspired to mimic the actions of highly publicized offenders; and (ii) a more general contagion process may manifest as a temporary increase in the likelihood of shootings associated with a triggering event. In this study of mass shootings since 2000, we focus on short-term contagion, rather than imitation that can traverse years. Specifically, after highlighting the sequencing of news coverage prior and subsequent to mass shootings, we apply multivariate point process models to disentangle the correlated incidence of mass public shootings and news coverage of such events. The findings suggest that mass public shootings have a strong effect on the level of news reporting, but that news reporting on the topic has little impact, at least in the relative short-term, on the subsequent prevalence of mass shootings. Finally, the results appear to rule out the presence of strong self-excitation of mass shootings, placing clear limits on generalized short-term contagion effects. Supplementary files for this article are available online.

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