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Where Are Gun Rights Themes on TV?

New Two-Year MRC Study Found Pro-Gun Themes and Arguments Are Unwelcome On the Air

In a new two-year Media Research Center study of TV gun-policy stories, Senior Analyst Geoffrey Dickens has found a dramatic network news tilt in favor of gun control. [See box.] Dickens also found that not only do most stories lean to the left for more gun regulation, the themes gun-rights advocates would like to see included in TV news reports are seldom mentioned. For example:

1. Increase prosecutions against criminals using firearms. The National Rifle Association argues that federal prosecutions of gun law violations have dropped significantly since 1992. In recent ads, the NRA has cited a Syracuse University study that there has been a 46 percent drop in prosecutions of the criminal use of firearms from 1992 to 1998. While NRA spokesmen invited on as guests made this point, TV reporters and interviewers cited the Clinton administration's failure to prosecute criminals just eight times.

2. When the program Project Exile increased gun prosecutions in Richmond, shootings were reduced. Reporters, for the most part, ignored one program that has successfully reduced shootings. Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia was noted a mere three times. According to the NRA, Project Exile "adopts a zero-tolerance for federal gun crimes, with federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors working hand-in-hand to prosecute each and every federal firearms violation." Once the program was implemented, the NRA found "the city's homicides were cut nearly one-third, the lowest number since 1987." The only mentions of Project Exile came once on NBC Nightly News and twice on ABC's World News Tonight. CBS aired nothing. CNN's The World Today never covered Project Exile, but did find time to highlight a guns for Beanie Babies exchange program in Illinois (April 27, 1998).

3. Millions of people use guns every year in self-defense. In 1997, criminologist Gary Kleck estimated that over 2.5 million people a year defend themselves from an assailant or burglar by exercising their constitutional right to bear arms. Yet how many times did television networks report such acts? In the past two years, out of 653 gun policy stories, exactly 12 times.

By making a blockbuster story out of several school shootings - while leaving out the millions of times citizens stop crime each year - the networks present a very misleading picture to the average viewer that firearm use brings more harm than good, and thus should be limited or even banned.

NBC mentioned self-defense in a positive light in a November 10, 1998 NBC Nightly News story on how "these continuing threats against [abortion] doctors in America have forced many to go to extreme lengths to protect themselves."

4. Current gun laws didn't stop shootings. Gun rights advocates argue that the utility of passing yet another gun law is questionable when the ones currently on the books didn't prevent any of the shootings. This point was made on just five separate occasions, all in the first half of 1999. On NBC, it was mentioned on the April 22 and 23 Today shows and the April 23 Nightly News. There was a brief mention on the April 21 edition of Good Morning America and the June 6 The World Today on CNN. CBS never touched it. - Tim Graham.