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[Tom Williams/AP]

Data

What Members of Congress Do — and Don’t — Say After Mass Shootings

An analysis of more than 800 official statements.

After last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, elected officials launched into a familiar ritual: issuing public statements expressing condemnation, grief, and prayer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement concluded:

My colleagues from Florida will carry home the prayers of the whole Senate — for victims and their families, for the community of Parkland, and for the first responders who bravely charge into harm’s way on behalf of others.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said:

Too many families have lost someone to the senseless epidemic of gun violence.  Congress has a moral responsibility to take common sense action to prevent the daily tragedy of gun violence in communities across America.

Their words addressed the tragedy at hand, but also fit into well-established scripts that politicians now routinely deploy in response to mass shootings. Below, we take a look at 817 of these statements that were identified using ProPublica’s Congress API.

After high-profile mass shootings, members of Congress often release official statements. In the chart below, each dot represents an individual statement: Republicans in red and Democrats in blue.
Since 2013, when a gunman killed a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard, 14 shootings have prompted official statements from at least 10 members of Congress. Democrats have issued more statements than Republicans.
The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been widely derided for its overuse, but prayer remains a popular prescription in response to shootings. Two-thirds of all Congressional statements contain the word pray.
Pray appears in 60 percent of statements issued by Democrats and 77 percent of those from Republicans.
Some language isn’t as bipartisan. A third of Democratic statements include the words gun violence. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida became the first Republican to use the phrase after last week’s mass shooting in Parkland.
And only Democrats refer to shootings as an epidemic.
Following the shootings in Orlando, San Bernardino, and Chattanooga, statements from Republicans tended to emphasize the gunmen’s connections to Islam.
Republicans are also more likely to refer to shootings as evil.

Now it’s your turn. Type in a search term to highlight all the matching statements. Try searching for common sense, sacrifice, or gun lobby.

About the data: Congressional statements were identified using ProPublica’s Congress API. The data consists of press releases that were published on House and Senate members’ websites within two days of shootings. Only shootings with 10 or more statements were included. Some statements may have been omitted due to incomplete data. Messages published on other platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, are not included. Eight statements by independent politicians were intentionally omitted.