The shooting rampage in a Connecticut elementary school last week triggered a conversation different from those that followed other recent U.S. gun tragedies.  In addition to an outpouring of emotion, social media and the opinion pages of newspapers were used immediately to tackle the polarizing issue of the nation’s gun laws, according to a special report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

On both blogs and Twitter, the gun policy discussion accounted for almost 30% of the social media conversation examined by PEJ, exceeding even prayers and expressions of sympathy in the three days following the December 14 massacre that left 26 dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. And, within that discussion, calls for stricter gun control measures exceeded defenses of current gun laws and policies by more than two to one.

This social media response is far different than what occurred following the January 8, 2011 shooting outside a Tucson Arizona mall that killed six and badly wounded Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords.  In the first three days after that tragedy, the discussion about our country’s gun laws was barely present – representing just 3% of the social media conversation in all. Instead, bloggers and Twitter users posted mainly about the heated political discourse in our country and its possible relationship to the shooting.  Similarly, in the social media response to the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012, outrage at the alleged perpetrator and the role of race in the incident overshadowed questions surrounding gun rights and Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute.

The heavy emphasis on gun policy–and support for stricter laws and enforcement–also played out in the nation’s newspaper opinion pages in the days immediately after the Newtown tragedy. An examination of op-ed columns and editorials in 11 of the nation’s newspapers from December 15-18 found that the discussion of gun laws was far more prevalent than other aspects of the tragedy, such as mental health or even sympathy for the victims. And, while just a snapshot of newspaper opinion pieces around the country, the tone was clear: those calling for stricter gun control outnumbered those defending current laws by a margin of more than 6 to 1.

The tragedy was also a top news event on YouTube. The most watched video by far, seen more than seven million times in the five days following that tragedy, was President Obama’s initial four-minute