Abstract: The Relationship between Violent Political Rhetoric and Mass Shootings in the U.S (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Relationship between Violent Political Rhetoric and Mass Shootings in the U.S

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Monument, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
William Nugent, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Professor, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Background and Purpose: The National Association of Social Workers has deemed mass shootings in the U.S. a public health crisis. The need for Social Work involvement in addressing this crisis has been emphasized. In addition to the injuries and deaths of victims, mass shootings are trauma inducing to victims, others in the community, and even those distant from the event. Numerous causes of mass shootings have been hypothesized. Recently there has been speculation that violent political rhetoric (VPR) may be associated with mass shootings. A recent study showed a positive relationship between mass shootings and VPR over a 54 year period. A significant limitation of this study was the restrictive definition of mass shootings, which were defined as events in which four or more persons were killed, possibly including the shooter(s). The purpose of the current study was to investigate the relationship between the rates of mass shootings and VPR using a broader definition of mass shootings, that of the Gun Violence Archive, in the U.S. from 2014 through 2019. In this current study mass shootings were defined as four or more persons wounded or killed in the event, not including the shooter(s). This study adds to the recent investigation by demonstrating the relationship between VPR and mass shootings generalizes across both restrictive and broad definitions of mass shootings.

Methods: This study involved the analysis of a 72-month time series of mass shooting data in the U.S. from 2014 through 2019, and VPR over this period as measured in a recent study by Zeitzoff (2019). Spectral and harmonic regression methods were used to investigate possible periodicity in the mass shooting data. An autoregressive distributed lag with error correction (ARDL-EC) time series analysis was used to investigate deseasonalized mass shooting data for a possible relationship between VPR and the deseasonalized mass shootings.

Results: The results showed a statistically significant 12-month periodicity in the mass shooting data. The results of the ARDL-EC analysis showed a statistically significant positive relationship between VPR and deseasonalized mass shootings. The 12-month periodicity accounted for about 51% of the total variation in mass shootings over the 72-month period. VPR accounted for about 10% of the total variation in the rates of deseasonalized mass shootings.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggested that there is a 12-month cycle in mass shootings, as defined by the Gun Violence Archive, with higher numbers of mass shootings in spring and summer months. Results also suggested that, controlling for this periodicity, as VPR increases, mass shootings increase. These results suggest further research is needed on the relationship between VPR and mass shootings. The results also underscore the importance of Social Work involvement in efforts to understand the causes of, and to reduce the numbers of, mass shootings in the U.S. Among other things, Social Workers might develop programs such as empathy training to reduce the potentially dehumanizing effects of VPR on the groups targeted by VPR.

Reference: Zeitzoff, T. (2019) The nasty style: Why politicians use violent rhetoric. Available online: https://www.zeitzoff.com/uploads/2/2/4/1/22413724/zeitzoff_nastystyle_violentrhetoric_draft_nov2019.pdf