The Newtown Shooting Really Has Changed the Conversation on Gun Control, as Google Trends Can Show

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For a long, sad time, with each mass shooting incident came a wave of passion about gun control -- a wave that pummeled the shore for a few days, before flowing out to sea with the arrival of another news cycle.

We can see this, easily, in the visualized data of our collective Google searches. With "gun control" on the national consciousness following a tragedy, the line spikes, but then it returns to about the same place where it was to begin with. Here, for example, are the U.S. searches for "gun control" during the 46 months of Barack Obama's presidency that took place before the Newtown shooting:

Compare that with this next graph, which shows the same 46 months *plus* the final month of 2012 and the first 11 days of 2013. The entire scale of the graph is different. What was once a series of tall peaks and deep valleys is now rolling hills, dwarfed by the spike following the Newtown shooting.

Now, let's zoom in on just the most recent period, from November 2012 to present. Here you can see not just how much greater the Newtown peak is, but how the rate has remained elevated since. (It seems that the bump at the beginning of December came on the heels of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.)

As Hendrik Hertzberg wrote of gun-related sentiment in a recent issue of The New Yorker, "There is, for the moment, a perceptible change in the weather." The data bears that out. But, as he continued, "Even a change in the climate, though, may not be enough" to bring about a change in policy. Google, for its part, is silent on that matter.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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