Media coverage following the February 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida provides a window into the ongoing public discourse on gun violence and prevention policies, including temporary removal laws firearms. Six states first introduced ERPO policies after Parkland, and three of them passed such laws in the 2018 legislative session (one of the three non-passing states, Colorado, has since passed legislation ERPO). The results of this content analysis highlight several ways in which media coverage of ERPO appears distinct from coverage of gun violence in general, as well as elements of coverage that can inform understanding of adoption and implementation of the ERPO policy at the state level.
Previous studies suggest that media coverage of gun violence often reinforces the idea that it is an inevitable and intractable problem rather than a preventable one. . The coverage of ERPOs is therefore unique in that it refers to an approach that is inherently solution-focused rather than problem-focused of gun violence. Although relatively few of the articles in our analysis explicitly mention that a violent event was or could have been prevented by an ERPO (13.1%), this idea was significantly more likely to be mentioned in articles on the states passing than on non-passing states.
The evocation of such a “prevention framework” to build support for ERPO policy aligns with previous evidence suggesting that the public is sensitive to incidents of gun violence in which someone close to the shooter would have known. that something was wrong but didn’t have the tools to do anything about it . In our analysis, the use of the terms “warning signs” or “red flags” in reference to demonstrated signs of concern (but not in policy names) was more frequent in ERPO coverage of health conditions. passing than on non-passing states.
This focus on identifiable markers of risk of harm is also consistent with expert advice and higher levels of public support for risk-based (rather than universal) firearms policies and interventions. ). For example, previous research has found widespread public support (>80%), including among gun owners, for healthcare professionals who talk with patients about gun safety in the context risk reduction, but lower levels of support for such conversations “in general” . A recent study indicates that public support for ERPO policies and personal willingness to use an ERPO in various risk-based scenarios are equally high (>70%). .
Our results also suggest that policy names can facilitate or hinder public support and political momentum, with coverage of passing states more often using only ERPO official policy names and non-passing states more often using only familiar “red flag” policy names. The term “red flag law” has been criticized by gun violence prevention experts for being too vague, stigmatizing people with mental illness and downplaying the level of risk needed to justify a gun ban. while the name “extreme risk protection order” has been recommended for widespread use by violence prevention organizations because it “describes[s] the object of the law in common parlance and invoke[s] the urgency to reflect the situations in which the law would be used” . Recent survey data in California also suggests that official policy names and the term “red flag law” are also recognizable, although public awareness of EPROs is generally low (34%). .
Coverage of ERPOs, including articles on passing states, tended to use harsh and prohibitive language, such as “take away”, “seize”, “ban” and “ban” to describe the process of recovering weapons. fire. Evidence suggests that gun owners may be more likely to support the recovery of a gun for someone in crisis if the language highlights the temporary nature of such action, rather than a ban. permed . In our analysis, although most articles used a combination of both prohibitive and preventative language, ERPO articles on transition states were more likely to exclusively use the word “prevent” to describe implementation. law enforcement (e.g., “preventing access to firearms”), while articles on non-passing states more often used the words “seize” or “seize” exclusively. Future research should explore public reactions to variations in recovery language used to describe the ERPO process.
The term “gun control” appears in a third of the articles in our sample. Findings from previous qualitative studies have emphasized the value of culturally acceptable language, including avoiding “gun control” language, to engage gun owners in prevention strategies. suicide that reduce access to firearms. [17, 18]. Media analysis of universal background check laws after the 2012 mass shootings in Newtown, CT also found that “gun control” was mentioned less frequently in news stories in states that enacted laws. such policies in relation to news in general. . This same study also suggested that defining gun policies as “common sense” may be an ineffective way to build political support, as it uses rational rather than values-based messaging; similarly, in our study, the terms “common sense” or “good sense” appeared more often in stories about states that have not enacted ERPO legislation. In contrast, rights-based arguments, which activate core values associated with gun ownership, may be more powerful than fact-based ones. In our sample, the term “Second Amendment” was used both in favor and in opposition to ERPOs, although it appeared more often in media coverage of non-passing states.
Contrary to recommendations from experts, victims’ rights advocates and the news media [19,20,21], more than one in four articles in our analysis mentioned the perpetrators of gun violence by name, particularly the Parkland shooter, and one in five described the specific firearms used. This practice was much more common in articles about transit states, though it may in part reflect the fact that Florida – the state in which the Parkland shooting occurred – was included as one of our passing states (see table in Supplemental File 1 for results by state). It should be noted that among the six states in our sample, articles on Florida were also most often published in news outlets outside the state (see Supplementary Sheet 2). While journalists may be inclined to provide details about perpetrators and their crimes to inform the public or trigger action, narrowly focusing on the details of a single event (episodic framing) without looking at the bigger picture may not only obscure prevention, focused on public health. solutions to gun violence, but can also encourage copycat crimes .
Consistent with newspaper coverage of other recent public shootings, such as the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting , civil servants/politicians were by far the most frequently mentioned and quoted stakeholders in the overall ERPO coverage. While officials/politicians appeared more frequently in stories about failing states, gun violence prevention advocates, such as Everytown for Gun Safety and student advocates, were mentioned more frequently in stories about passing states. . This suggests that the public, and in turn the policy-making process, can benefit from the perspectives of community groups, which may also be more active in states where ERPO legislation has been successfully passed.
References to ERPO policies in other states or at the federal level were also more frequent in passing states than in non-passing states. Similarly, although only one in four papers cited scientific evidence related to gun violence in general, passage states papers were much more likely to cite the small but growing body of research on implementation and policy. efficiency of the ERPO. These findings underscore the value of relevant data, likely in combination with the lived experience and advocacy efforts of those most affected, to build political momentum through the media.
Our study has several limitations. First, our results do not imply causality, i.e. whether news media framing led to (or discouraged) policy adoption. Political process scholars have increasingly recognized the relationship between agenda setting in the media and politics as a complex system with non-recursive interactions and multiple feedback loops, rather than a simple linear process. . Our conclusions are based on previous evidence suggesting that these processes are integrally linked to each other.
Second, these findings typify the print media about ERPOs after the Parkland shooting in states that had never previously considered ERPO policy; as such, they may not be generalizable to media coverage of ERPOs in other states, at different time periods, or on television or radio. Additionally, our inclusion criteria (which selected policy-related stories) resulted in a sample of stories that were more solutions-oriented than mainstream media coverage of gun violence, but which may resemble coverage media following other mass shootings, which research has found has become more thematic (vs. episodic) over time . The generalizability of our findings is enhanced by the geographic, cultural, and political diversity reflected across the six states in our sample.
Third, we operationalized news media framing as the presence or absence of terms, people, events, and other information; in some cases and in future research, a closer examination of the context in which these elements arose may be useful to better understand the nature and implications of the framing.