Massacre fans flames of US gun concerns online

The Connecticut school massacre has fuelled an unprecedented wave of social media discussion on United States gun control, with the overwhelming majority favouring new limits on firearms, a study shows.

The Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that on blogs and Twitter, gun policy accounted for almost 30 per cent of the social media conversation examined.

This exceeded even expressions of sympathy in the three days following last Saturday's massacre that left 26 dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the report said.

The social media response is far different from what occurred following the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Pew said.

For three days after that incident, the discussion about gun laws represented only 3 per cent of the social media conversation, said Pew.

In the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, outrage at the shooting suspect and the role of race overshadowed questions on gun rights.

After the Connecticut massacre, comments advocating gun control were far more numerous than those defending current gun laws, the study said.

On Twitter, 64 per cent called for gun control reform versus 21 per cent defending gun rights, Pew found.

"Gun law is just ridiculous; no man, regardless of their history, should be allowed to walk into a shop and purchase an object built to kill," said one tweet cited in the study, while another said: "Don't pray; change your looney gun laws".

About 46 per cent of blog posts during this time called for reform, while 21 per cent opposed them.

In addition to the social media analysis, Pew said the opinion pages of 11 newspapers of different sizes were also heavily in favour of new controls on guns.

Overall, 33 of the 51 op-eds and editorials written about the shooting focused on the gun law element. And 25 called for stricter gun control or enforcement while just four defended current gun rights.

One such call came from the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who wrote: "We even regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips - but lawmakers don't have the gumption to stand up to the National Rifle Association."

But Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, wrote in USA Today: "Hopefully, the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the gun-free zone laws that are in fact criminal-safe zones."

The massacre shocked the country, and may have shifted the political debate on firearms after years of gun lobby ascendancy.


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