The Journal of Politics

Original Articles

Gun Policy, Opinion, Tragedy, and Blame Attribution: The Conditional Influence of Issue Frames

Donald P. Haider-Markela1 and Mark R. Joslyna1

a1 University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66044-3177


Political events and policy discussion set parameters for debate and help to determine how an issue comes to be defined. Though existing research has examined the effects of alternative representations of political issues on public opinion, less attention has been given to highly salient issues, such as gun policy, and the potential effect of framing on causal attributions of blame for tragic events. This study expands the framing research to include opinion on policies concerning guns as well as the attributions of blame following the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. We test several hypotheses using data from two field polls—one examining support for concealed handgun laws and the other examining blame attribution following the shootings at Columbine High School. We find that alternative gun frames influence opinion about concealed handgun laws as well as attributions of blame for Columbine. However, the effect is conditional, hinging on the nature of respondents' predisposition and existing knowledge. We consider these findings within the context of the policy-making process.

(Online publication December 01 1999)

(Received September 18 2000)