Bulling investigates how media portrays mass shooters and its influences on public opinion

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Gun control has been and still is a hotly contested and debated topic in today’s world. Senior Lorne Bulling decided to tackle the topic head on for his senior thesis and explore how the media frames mass shooters and thus influences public opinion of gun control.

Bulling, who started work on his senior thesis project last year in his junior seminar class, was always interested in exploring the legal aspects of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With help from his thesis adviser, professor Jim Moore, Bulling narrowed the topic for his thesis and decided to look into how the mass media frames shooters.

“I am looking at a number of articles and publications from major newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times and then coding them according to four different frames of focus to see how the shooters were portrayed,” said Bulling.

The frames that Bulling used in his thesis to help code the articles included focuses on mental health, legal access to guns and firearms, calls for stricter gun regulation and calls for less gun regulation.

The major shootings that Bulling decided to study and focus on for his thesis have all taken place within the past ten year, including the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, the Aurora shooting in 2012 and the Charleston shooting in 2015.

“Political science and the media are closely related,” explained Bulling. “The media decides everyday what kind of news is prevalent and decides how it will be presented to the public, which heavily impacts people’s views on different issues… The way the media portrays shooters after a shooting spree really affects public opinion toward gun control.”

Bulling has relied heavily upon newspapers and scholarly articles for his thesis, while also giving praise to his adviser, Moore, for all of his help and advice.

Bulling explained that one of the more interesting things he learned from his research was that public opinion for tighter gun control only really occurs when children become the victims of shootings.

Bulling said he hopes that people will realize there is a need for at least some gun control by the end of his presentation.

“Senior thesis is very stressful and it’s a lot of work. Overall, it’s a pretty fun experience,” said Bulling.

Bulling will be presenting his senior thesis on Senior Project Day on April 27th. After college, Bulling hopes to continue his education in law school.


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