Monday, June 20, 2016

The issue attention cycle: why guns won't disappear, but the issue will fade from the agenda

As promised yesterday, let's talk about why we'll stop talking about gun control very, very soon.  For all of my references to gun control supporters and opponents, it is worth remembering that very few people are truly, centrally motivated by guns as an issue.  Most people are partisans.  Guns are just one of the many issues that feed into partisanship.

What we discuss, then, is driven by the issue attention cycle.  That cycle frequently begins with a sudden, dramatic event.  Mass shootings, for example.  The cycle then moves to a discussion of potential policy responses.  Those responses depend largely on the "frame."  Note that there are three frames competing to explain Orlando:

1)  Guns
2)  Terrorism/radical Islam
3)  Anti-LGBT hate crimes

Policy responses depend on the frame.  Policy responses frequently take the form of "common sense."  Note that any appeal to "common sense" is a refusal to make a coherent argument.  It is, in fact, a denial of the responsibility to make a coherent argument, and an ad hominem attack on anyone who disagrees.  Common sense dictates that the earth is flat, matter is contiguous, heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones, and the sun revolves around the earth.  I have no patience for those who appeal to "common sense."

Whether policy change occurs or not depends on underlying political factors, specifically the preferences of those in control of each branch of government.  However, once events cease to occur, there is no longer anything for the media to cover.  Their attention must shift, and hence so must the public's.  At that point, gun control will fade from the public agenda.  That will occur either when negotiations within the Senate fail, leading to a down-vote on the measures that Murphy was pushing, or when the House defeats any gun control measures.  At that point, the story is over.

Which returns us to the basic observation about why nobody talks about those 10,000 people who die every day due to waterborne pathogens.  It just isn't news, so there is nothing to sustain the attention.  Instead, Americans ever-so-briefly obsess over 49 clubbers in Orlando, liberals because it involved guns, and conservatives because a muslim pulled the trigger, but in a few weeks, they won't even care about that.  They'll probably care too much about some idiotic sporting nonsense.  I hate sports.  Did I mention that I'm unmutual?

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