The story begins the 15th of December 1791. On this famous day, the United States ratified one of the Bill of rights: the famous Second Amendment:
‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’
To make it simple, theses 27 words assure the right of an american citizen to own and bear arms in the country. It consequently gives them the ability to rebel against a tyrannical government and to protect themselves without restrictions from the government. Nowadays the gun is really part of the American culture with 32% of the american owning one, which makes the USA the country with the most guns, but also with one of the highest rate of gun homicide in the world. The numerous and deadly mass shootings have risen a debate in the american society: does the Second Amendment protect us or does it threaten us? A true division among the population occurs in the United States. This is where we act! We will investigate correlations between social characteristics and the opinion of an american citizen about gun control.
The dataset used in this project is extracted from Quotebank, a corpus of quotations found in English news articles, published from January 2015 to April 2020. As the study takes interest into gun owning, a lexical field is used to select only relevant quotations, in other words, quotations containing one of the following words : ‘mass shooting’, ‘gun control’, ‘gun violence’, ‘2nd amendment’, ‘second amendment’, ‘gun owning’, ‘firearm’.
This lexical field has been determined after several studies of the original dataset. The obtained dataset contains a total of 69 963 quotations, some of them being quoted several times, in different articles. The share of American speakers can be visualized on the right: on the 69 963 quotations, 43 651 were pronounced by American speakers, representing a share of 65.8% of the dataset.
The first step of our investigation consists in analyzing the quotations content. To see which lexical field is used when talking about the Second Amendment, the occurrences of each word present in the 69 963 quotations is estimated. The 40 most frequent words (without the stop words) are visible in the word cloud, where the size of the word in the cloud is proportional to its occurrence in the list of quotations. As expected, the most frequent words are the one of the initial lexical field, however other words such as: law, rights, people, state, police and protect are recurrent and correspond well to the debate of the gun permit.
First, a timeline of the quotations is visualized to get an idea of the quotations repartition in time. The timeline takes into account repetition of quotations in several articles and are classified according to the date of publication of the corresponding articles. The frequency-timeline of ‘gunquotes’ is completed with a timeline of mass shootings, that were selected according to their number of deaths. Our guess is that the high peaks in frequency are correlated with shocking events, like mass-shooting which imply more than 10 deaths. As you can see, the number of mass-shooting events in the United States is quite huge and the subject of gun owning in the English newspapers is quite predominant.
The study will focus more precisely on some events, see the graph for the months of October 2017 and February 2018, corresponding to two of the three highest peaks of our timeline. These peaks also correspond to two important mass shootings that occurred in Las Vegas and in a high school in Florida, shocking events that relaunched the debate on the Second Amendment.
01.10.2017 - Las Vegas shooting
On the evening of October 1, 2017 a man posted in a hotel suite, opened fire upon a crowd in a music festival in Las Vegas. 40 people were killed and 411 were wounded. The event shocked the international scene and the medias talked about the consequences and the progress of the investigation for several days. With a total number of quotations of 4478 on the 2nd of October, the day following the shooting, against 100 for the 1st of October, the day before the shooting, our dataset is quite illustrative of the event.
The quotations of the following days are also quite relevant of peoples’ shock and opinion about gun owning, like this one:
‘Like other recent acts of domestic terrorism, we are once again in shock and unable to explain the senseless loss of life. Nobody wants to politicize a personal tragedy. At the same time, I understand why most Americans are frustrated and upset by the lack of action in Congress to address gun violence. We all have a right to be safe in our communities, and that includes a family-friendly concert in Las Vegas. While we can’t prevent every tragedy, we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to prevent mass shootings.’
Michelle Lujan Grisham - October 2nd, 2017
14.02.2018 - Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
On February 14, 2018, a 19-year old former student opened fire on students and staff of a high school in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 people and injured 17 others. As visible on the timeline, the articles of the following days were impacted by the shooting, with a consequent number of quotes for the second half of the month. Indeed, the average number of gun related quotations for the days before the shooting is about 78 while it is of 2070 for the day of the shooting and the days after.
Quotations of the day after the shooting reveal peoples’ sadness and anger or will to defend the Second Amendment.
‘I don’t know how many times it has to happen for a school shooting, a mass shooting of this caliber, before somebody does something, before somebody does something, before people really get into it’
Kelly Ripa - February 15th, 2018
‘Let’s remember, the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. It didn’t, it didn’t, you know, that’s not what killed innocent people’
Gov. Rick Scott - February 15th, 2018
One goal of our study is to determine if parts of the population (speakers) can have different opinions about gun-control depending on their social characteristics. We want to better understand the influence of these social criteria on the judgment Americans have on this sensitive subject, and see if some cliches are in fact proven. Are the Republicans really more attached to the Second Amendment? Do men really have a better opinion than women about guns?
Another question we can raise is the following: which categories of speakers are the more likely to change their opinion about gun-control after a tragic event like those we mentioned in the previous section?
In order to best answer these questions, we will keep only the American speakers and separate our dataset in three categories: the gender (male and female), the age (under or over a specified age) and finally the political party (Democrats and Republicans). We chose to keep only these genders and parties as they were largely the most represented. To have more significant results, we also balanced each category regarding the two others.
Let’s sum up: first, we want to see the influence of the gender, the age and the political party of a speaker on its opinion about guns. To do so, we will apply an algorithm named « Sentiment Analysis » which assigns a score to each quote regarding its global meaning. If a quote has a negative connotation, it will have a score close to -1. If its meaning is positive, its score will be close to 1 and if it’s neutral, the score will be close to 0. Some quotes of our dataset and their score are shown below:
‘I am for constitutional carry. OK? And I believe we have constitutional carry as a state. You can carry your long rifle where you want to. Your firearm. Your pistol. You can have that in your home. You can have that in your business. You can have that in your car. All of those things are available. We have expanded our gun laws extensively. And that is my record.’
‘Been clear in my support for the Second Amendment. That will not change… Gun violations should be treated harshly as such behavior is contrary to the intent of the Constitution and good public order.’
‘No more thoughts and prayers. No more inaction. We will seize the moment and take ACTION to end gun violence.’
‘I think you can fully support people’s access to firearms for sport and hunting and self-defense without everyone needing to own firearms that have 40-round clips. I just think that has contributed to the scale of many of these shootings.’
‘Frankly, I’m just tired of lowering the flags for school mass shootings and I’m tired of gun violence being part of our collective discussion for a week or two after another mass school shooting and then we move on,’
The second question we raised was the study of the opinion variation after a tragic event among the speakers categories. In our study, we will focus on the Las Vegas shooting of the 1st October 2017 as it’s the most deadly mass shooting in the us history and so, represent one of the highest peak of quotes as seen in our timeline. Another study could have been done about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in the 14th February 2018 with maybe different results. Indeed, this shooting raised a huge debate about gun-control laws and allowed to change some of them in Florida, pitting strong supporters of the Second Amendment against those who want more control.
From our analysis, we can determine that among our three social criteria, the more influant in the opinion about guns are the political side and the gender. The influence of the political party takes clearly roots in the history of them. The influence of gender is just an illustration of the cliché we have about men and women and their attraction to firearms. We also showed that almost every subgroup of speakers became less pro-guns after a tragedy even Republican who are historically favorable to the Second Amendment.