We Forget Mass Shootings in Less Than a Month. Here’s the Proof

After the initial outrage, most Americans move on, and nothing changes

Last Updated: June 15, 2016 @ 10:41 AM

Last year’s Frontline documentary about the NRA, “Gunned Down,” gave a very simple explanation for why lawmakers don’t pass sweeping gun control legislation: Most of us stop thinking about guns not long after a mass shooting. But the NRA never stops fighting.

How long does it take us to forget about mass shootings? According to our Google search histories, about a month.

There have now been at least 41 mass shootings since 2007 in the United States, according to a data set collected by Mother Jones. Americans remain shocked by the horrific killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. But the news cycle is already moving on to other stories, like an alligator attack in that same city.

Here are some charts illustrating how quickly we stop thinking about mass shootings — at least to the extent that our Google searches reflect our private thoughts.

Relative Google Search Interest Since 2004 for Recent Mass Shootings

Google Trends

Google Trends

The data is a comparison of the total number of searches for a specific inquiry in comparison to the total number of searches done on Google over time. The spikes are not an indication of the total number of searches, but rather spikes in relative interest for the term.

The yellow line indicates searches for “San Bernardino shooting,” red for “Charleston church shooting,” purple for “Washington Navy Yard shooting,” green for “Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,” and blue for “Virginia Tech shooting.”

“Somehow this has become routine,”President Barack Obama said following a shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon last year. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” 

“I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as President to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances,” he added. “But based on my experience as President, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say.”

Here are the Google trend lines for recent mass shootings, broken out individually (you can click on each image to be directed to the interactive graph on Google Trends):

San Bernardino

Google Trends

Google Trends

Fourteen people were killed and 22 injured in San Bernardino in a Dec. 2, 2015 shooting. Searches peaked from the date of the incident to Dec. 5, but Google Trends indicates a sharp decrease beginning Dec. 6.

Charleston

Google Trends

Google Trends

The Charleston church shooting took place on June 17, 2015, and took the lives of nine people. But four days later, on June 21, interest plunged. By the next month, search interest fell close to the baseline.

Washington Navy Yard

Google Trends

Google Trends

Twelve people were killed following a deadly shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16, 2013. But by Sept. 22, interest began to drop.

Sandy Hook

Google Trends

Google Trends

The shooting took the lives of 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. There are notably more spikes in interest following the weeks immediately following the incident on Dec. 14, 2012 — perhaps in part because so many of the victims were so young, and parents and others did their best to keep the tragedy in the public’s mind.

Virginia Tech

Google Trends

Google Trends

Thirty-two people died in the April 16, 2007 shooting. It took only until April 22 for search interest to drop.