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Guns, Hollywood, and School Safety: Defining the School-Shooting Problem Across Public Arenas


  • *The first-named author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors thank Maxwell McCombs, Liana Winett, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on early drafts of this research, and Anne Britton, Lisa Ferretti, and Kathie Legg for their research assistance.

Regina G. Lawrence, Division of Political Science, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751


Objective. Research in agenda setting has demonstrated that dramatic news events can drive particular issues to the top of the media and governmental agendas. The objective of this study is to analyze how different aspects of an event-driven problem compete for attention in those arenas.

Methods. The method is content analysis of media coverage and congressional legislative activity following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.

Results. The results show that while both agendas converged on the gun-control aspect of the problem, they substantially diverged on other understandings of what kind of problem the Columbine shooting represented and how to address it.

Conclusions. We conclude that the differing institutional structure and incentives of the news media and Congress can create or inhibit interinstitutional positive feedback in the problem-defining process. Agenda divergences are amplified when prominent politicians cue the media to follow particular story lines that depart from actual legislative activity.