Technology has not only changed how we interact with the world, it has created an unbelievable access to information nearly instantaneously. Uninhibited access to information — and misinformation — has undoubtedly impacted both public opinion and how current events are compared to the past. The recency effect, a surprisingly common psychological phenomenon, impedes one's cognitive ability to accurately interpret events across time. The recency effect is a cognitive bias that results from disproportionate salience of recent stimuli or observations. Could the recency effect explain why the majority of Americans, or 56%, claim that the number of gun-related crimes has increased compared to 20 years ago even though they have actually decreased?

Cognitive Bias

Although the recency effect typically explains a cognitive bias over a shorter period of time, it appears as though this cognitive heuristic guides collective American opinion — at least in the case of gun violence. I would offer that unfettered access to information, news, and social media further complicates one's ability to avoid such cognitive bias when forming opinions. The research is very clear that exposure to information undoubtedly impacts one's thought processes and opinions. Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising because it works. Familiarity and exposure tend to produce likeness. In similar fashion, repeated exposure to information, ideas, or thoughts tends to produce belief. The same principle applies.

The Facts

Since 1993, gun violence has decreased significantly. Between 1993 and 2000, the gun homicide rate dropped by nearly 50%. Since that time, the gun homicide rate has been relatively flat — hovering between 11,000 and 12,000 per year. The majority of gun deaths in the United States are actually suicide. The gun suicide rate is approximately 6.7 per 100,000 people while gun homicide rate is 3.6 per 100,000 people. In total (gun homicide and suicide), overall gun violence has decreased by 30% since 1993. Non-fatal violent firearm crimes have also precipitously fallen since 1993 from 725.3 per 100,000 people to 174.8 per 100,000 people.

Gun Control Support

Despite the fact that gun violence has clearly fallen over the past two decades, the majority of Americans support gun control measures such as expanded background checks (85%), the development of a federal database to track gun sales (70%) and laws to prevent mentally ill individuals from obtaining firearms (79%). Even the majority of Americans support the ban of assault firearms.

Gun Violence is STILL A Major Problem

I previously published an article on the gun violence epidemic in America outlining the crux of the problem. The firearm homicide rate in the United States is still 20 times higher than the average of other industrialized nations. And in 2015 alone, the nation has experienced 294 mass shootings. Just because we have improved from an egregious rate of gun violence does not mean we do not have a problem. More must be done to stem the tide of violent crime. But, gun control is far from the only answer. The top four cities in the US with the worst murder rates have some of the most stringent gun laws. Solving this problem is far more complex than enacting gun control measures. What do you think is necessary to solve this problem?