Sticking to your guns - the politics of mass shootings

Thursday, 16 May 2019  @Business School
Dr Yousaf says mass shootings in the US have a tendency to polarise people.

Less than two months since the mass shootings in Christchurch which left 50 people dead, New Zealand’s Parliament have already voted to change gun laws in their country.

However, in the United States the picture is very different with 90 mass shootings since 1982.

A UNSW Business School academic says the likelihood of political consensus in America over mass shootings decreases with every incident.

Dr Hasin Yousaf, from the School of Economics, has conducted research which focuses on the consequences of mass shootings and found that people's personal opinions on gun policy were likely to be reinforced after each individual incident - no matter which side of the debate they were on.

And he admits he was surprised by the findings.

“Mass shootings do not bring consensus on the topic, rather they make people polarised,” Dr Yousaf says.

“Instead, they become stronger about their party’s stance. The Republicans will back having more guns, whereas the Democrats will go the opposite way.”

Dr Yousaf says despite the deadly impact mass shootings have on the lives of individuals and communities, it is the same event that leads people to think differently on what should be done regarding policy. 

He observed similar behaviours with politicians, “Rather than converging on whether there should be fewer or more guns, instead they diverged towards their political lines.”

Hasin Yousaf, Lecturer, School of Economics, UNSW Business School.

According to Dr Yousaf, polarisation is based on the individual’s prior views. Republicans already think mass shootings cannot be prevented by gun control, whilst Democrats are firm believers in having fewer guns. So, when a mass shooting takes place, they go back into their position of being ‘right’ with the event confirming their convictions.

The UNSW Business School economist says: “What I can infer from my results is that as long as you have some sort of conformity bias, which is true for many issues in general, you will basically become polarised rather than coming together.”

Unclear motives

Although it is difficult to quantify the exact number of firearms in the US, Dr Yousaf says the ownership of guns has increased after each mass shooting, with the US being one of the countries with most guns per capita.

While the motives behind why many mass shootings take place is still unclear, there are links to the availability of firearms and the level of social and mental health issues that perpetrators may suffer from.

There is research that suggests copycat behaviour is also partially responsible for some shootings, although the UNSW Business School Economist is skeptical of the finding.

Flowers to remember the victims of the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings.

Dr Yousaf explains: “I’m currently looking at the impact of mass shootings on economic outcomes – employment, earnings, housing market etc.

“I don’t have preliminary results but intuitively speaking mass shootings should be very similar to terrorism in a way - there’s likely to be decreased economic growth in the area, you’d see fewer businesses running, meaning lower earnings and decreased housing prices.”

sticking-to-your-guns-the-politics-of-mass-shootings