Is The Narrative on Gun Violence All It Should Be?

Our friends at Media Matters have just posted a new report on gun violence prepared and published by a California gun violence prevention (GVP) group, the Hope and Heal Fund, which looks at how the media has and hasn’t covered gun violence issues. The report, which can be downloaded here, looked at 218 newspaper articles and thousands of tweets in 2016-2017 in an attempt to develop a baseline understanding of the gun violence narrative in California, as well as making some suggestions about how the narrative might be changed.

hope-and-heal_LOGO              The researchers found that gun policies were the dominant conversation in print and social media, accounting for 40% of the total narrative, with mass shootings provoking another 15%, crime and policing covering 15% more. In other words, nearly three-quarters of the entire public discussion about gun violence in California focused on issues other than the issue which accounts for just about all gun violence, namely, the individual gun shootings – suicide, street gangs, domestic disputes – which account for nearly all intentional gun injuries both in California and everywhere else.

As to what the report calls the ‘messengers’ who were quoted on gun violence, again the data was skewed in favor of public policies because 40% of the people who had something to say about the issue were identified as politicians, whereas researchers, advocacy groups and victims each constituted 9 percent. Taken together, these three groups would constitute in broad terms the California GVP community, and what’s interesting is that as one group, the number of times they delivered a message about gun violence was more than twice as frequent as what the researchers identified as the ‘gun lobby,’ whose total participation in the public media discussion was 12 percent.

Maybe because it’s California and not Texas or some other gun-hugging state, I am nevertheless surprised that the gun-control contributions to the media coverage of gun violence is so much greater than what Gun-nut Nation was able to produce. You would think that given the fact that there have been major changes in California gun laws over the last several years, as well as highly-publicized gun ‘rights’ legal cases such as Peruta v. California, that the NRA and other pro-gun organizations would have been all over the social media world blasting about this gun issue or that. But this report tells a much different story about the relative strength of the two sides, at least in the Golden State.

Now we come to the part of the report which gives me some concern.  “Based on our findings,” says the Report’s conclusion, “we have developed the following recommendations for Hope and Heal Fund’s efforts to change the narrative on gun violence in California.” The recommendations involve: more attention to suicide, domestic violence and gangs; reminding people that much policy work remains to be done; highlight the words and deeds of community leaders; look to the public health area for more research; highlight personal stories about victims; and, “depoliticize gun violence by appealing to common values. Sidestep political opposition by crafting messages that emphasize universal values like safety, opportunity and freedom from fear.”

Sidestep political opposition? Who’s kidding whom?  The California gun-rights gang just got the Los Angeles City Council to end a ban on sale of ultra-concealable handguns (guns less than 6.75 inches long) although it’s not clear how many of the really little guns would meet compliance standards of the state law. But if anyone believes that people who are buying guns because they are afraid of crime or terrorists or whatever are going to be persuaded that there are other ways they can legally protect themselves, perhaps you could enlighten me as to what these non-gun options might be.

I’m not against any of the proposals for strengthening the gun-control narrative but I think there’s one proposal which the writers of this report appeared to have missed, namely, just get rid of the guns. Shouldn’t someone be doing some social media messaging on that?


4 thoughts on “Is The Narrative on Gun Violence All It Should Be?

  1. Well, we just had another mass shooting. This one in Clovis, in SE New Mexico by a troubled sixteen year old. The assailant’s family had a gun safe but the teen was able to take two handguns out and shoot up the public library, killing two and wounding four. What he really wanted to do was shoot up the school and then perform do-it-yourself brain surgery but I guess the secondary target worked for him. I guess he decided not to kill himself.

    The sixteen year old had, according to the newspapers, long term emotional issues. Since either he had safe access or it was left open, he had access to the family hand cannons. The rest, as they say, is history.

    I suppose if the family didn’t have the guns those people would not have been shot. I suppose if the family realized the kid had emotional issues, he should not have had access to the guns. That is the problem with half-measures. Too many failure modes. They fail.often enough that those 30-40k people get blown away every year.

    Things like guns and cars are dangerous when misused and with so many out there, some WILL be misused. We rationalize killing 30-40k people with cars every year because cars are not designed for killing people (although they do a damn good job of it when misused and when transportation design stresses throughput over harm reduction) and they have the benefit of personal transportation freedom. Not to mention, our whole civilization is built around them. Having watched two people die in a high speed head on crash, don’t get me started on Vision Zero.

    As for guns? They are designed to put catastrophic holes in living things, the Zen of traditional target shooting notwithstanding. They do a pretty good job of it. Clovis just joined the club. A risk based Vision Zero for guns would probably mean closer to zero guns rather than hundreds of millions. Good luck with that. But I guess I would like to see what a pro-gun place like Clovis has to say now that they are part of the Mass Shooting Club.

  2. Has anyone ever stopped to count the number of Gun Violence Prevention organizations? There must be hundreds now (large and small) with both inconsistent and incoherent messaging confusing everyone. Not to mention that some of the larger orgs spend most of their time on political issue messaging rather than gun messaging. The entire movement is a mess…and very ineffective.

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