Tag Archives: gun violence prevention groups

Book now available

Read my new book about the gun-related policy responses to school shooting incidents in the United States.

Available for purchase here: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319753126

Reducing Gun Violence: The Importance of Interest Groups

The last two blog posts documented some of the ways in which interest groups can frame gun violence for it to gain traction in the policy sphere. It now needs to be highlighted why gun violence prevention interest groups are so important to the process. Further to this, the occurrence of a highly publicised event like a school shooting or other form of mass shooting allows for suggestions around changes needed to gun legislation to be made by these groups. This blog post will explore both of these points in further detail.

 

In a democratic society like the United States, citizens are pertinent to the policy-making process through a number of activities: lobbying/campaigning, engaging in debates, pressurising politicians to take action and submitting a request for a bill to be passed. Interest groups provide a space for citizens to engage in ‘policy advocacy,’ promoting change on a particular issue(s). These organisations can also act as ‘conduits,’ passing information between members of the public and lawmakers.

 

When the focus of an interest group is specific and narrow in nature, such as gun policy, it means that positions tend to be polarised. Taking the example of the Virginia Tech University school shooting elucidates this point. An interest group focusing on gun rights, such as the Gun Owners of America, claimed that arming students would have prevented the high death toll. Conversely, the gun violence prevention groups like Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence pushed for action on gun legislation, indicative of the shooter being able to purchase weapons despite being temporarily detained at a mental health facility.

 

The actions, resources and membership of an interest group are, therefore, predicated on its ideological facets: “…many ideologies [are] developed precisely in order to sustain, legitimate, or manage group conflicts, as well as relationships of power and dominance” (1). Members of an interest group may propagate their interests in the political sphere, by working with political actors to draft legislative bills and endorsing and, sometimes funding, candidates who will support their goals for state and local campaigns.

 

The real power from interest groups comes when they are actually able to influence public opinion and mobilise action on policy action. This is more likely to occur following a ‘focusing event’: something which is rare, unexpected and shocking (2). A school shooting fits this criteria, as an incident which is actually quite atypical within the wider rubric of gun violence; yet allows for ‘gun violence’ to appear on the political agenda and influence public sentiment. Illustrating this is what occurred in Colorado, where gun violence prevention interest groups lobbied for landmark gun laws, including reducing magazine sizes to ten rounds and universal background checks for all sales. This state had previously suffered from some high-profile incidents: the Columbine school shooting, the hostage situation at Platte Canyon High School and the mass shooting at the movie theatre in Aurora. Although the issue of gun violence had already been on the minds of voters for the 2012 election, it was the Sandy Hook school shooting that put the issue on the agenda for the Colorado Legislature in 2013. As documented in the blog post published on the 30th of April 2014, the Sandy Hook school shooting had also allowed for a nation-wide debate on gun reform. Without the mechanism of interest groups to convey information to the public, work with political actors, and lobby for particular changes to law, it would be more difficult to try and gain policy traction when high profile incidents occur.

 

  1. van Dijk, T. A. (1998) Ideology: a multidisciplinary approach. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Birkland, T. A. (1997) After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy and Focusing Events. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press; Kingdon, J. W. (1993/2004) Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (second edition). New York: Longman.

 

[This blog post was the final in a series around gun policy. It was put together using literature around interest groups, focusing events and social policy. The next post will look at thwarted school shootings that are said to have been ‘inspired’ by the Columbine shooters.]

 

The Humanisation of Gun Violence Victims

The statement that gun violence is a problem within the United States is irrefutable. The statistic of thirty-two deaths every day from gun violence — the equivalent of an incident like the Virginia Tech University shooting occurring three hundred and sixty-five times — provides evidence of its prevalence. Despite this, it can be difficult for policies aimed at reducing gun violence to gain traction. The ‘human interest approach’ to gun violence is one way to persuade people of the significance of the problem. The purpose of this blog post is to advance the arguments around why this technique is likely to work.

 

The discrepancy between the high levels of gun violence in the United States contrasted with lower levels of public concern may be explained by the idea that statistics are representations of “people with the tears dried off” (1). To clarify, whilst statistics document the extent of the problem, the idea that these alone can motivate change now seems to be redundant. This might be explained by a number of theorists who have examined the way news and other forms of stories are ‘framed.’ Putting the issue of gun violence into context by citing statistical evidence is a form of ‘thematic framing,’ addressing the larger trends involved. Since thematic frames do not, however, “provide specific characters at which receivers may direct their emotional reactions,” they can struggle to engage an audience. (2) Conversely, ‘episodic framing,’ which looks at individual stories, is more likely to elicit emotional reactions of sympathy and pity. (3)

 

Applying framing arguments to gun violence finds that a ‘human interest approach’ of representing the victims as real and identifiable people will have a greater chance of engaging the audience. (4) For interest groups working in the field of gun violence prevention, it seems a more persuasive technique would be to firstly use the emotional argument to engage people and then use statistical evidence to document the severity of the problem. Another way is to hear about the experiences of the relatives of victims. An example of this is the sister of Vicky Soto, a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, telling an audience at a Mayors Against Illegal Guns activism event about her loss and why this has motivated her to campaign for stronger gun laws. Other people who have lost children or other family members in school shootings have also become involved in campaigning for gun safety, speaking out about their personal experiences.

 

Taking this into consideration, it certainly seems that combining stories of individual gun violence victims with the voices of those affected by this loss would be compelling enough to generate a powerful emotional reaction. In order to create policy change, however, action would need to be taken quite expeditiously, for there is a strong possibility that this intense response would only be short-term in nature and the public would move onto something else. This highlights the need for sustained and engaging debates after high profile incidents of gun violence covered extensively in news media coverage, alongside the constant reporting of the thirty-two victims killed every day in ‘smaller’ incidents.

 

  1. Gardner, D. (2008) Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. London: Virgin Books Ltd, 94.
  2. Aaroe, Lene. (2011) ‘Investigating Frame Strength: The Case of Episodic and Thematic Frames.’ Political Communication 28(2), 210.
  3. See, for instance, the following studies: Aaroe, Lene. (2011) ‘Investigating Frame Strength: The Case of Episodic and Thematic Frames.’ Political Communication 28(2), 207-226; Entman R. M. (1993) ‘Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.’ Journal of Communication 43(4), 51-58; Gross, K. (2008) ‘Framing Persuasive Appeals: Episodic and Thematic Framing, Emotional Response and Policy Opinion.’ Political Psychology 29(2), 169-192.
  4. Galtung, J. and M. Ruge. (1965/1973) ‘Structuring and Selecting News.’ In SCohenand J. Young (eds.) The Manufacture of News: Social Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 62-72.

 

[This blog was put together by using empirical research with activists in the field of gun violence prevention and reading literature around framing. The next blog post will discuss the role interest groups play in the process.]

“It’s a fantasy”: Will Concealed Carry Guarantee Protection?

The quotation part of this title was said by one of the gun violence prevention (GVP) group representatives to whom I spoke, evincing that they perceived the concealed carry and protection linkage to be idealistic in nature. Another interviewee made a similar point that, unlike law enforcement, individual citizens are not specifically trained to respond to dangerous situations. The purpose of this blog is to challenge the ideas presented in the past couple of posts about concealed carry allowing for successful self-defence against a school shooter and other threats.

One GVP group representative pointed out that students might mistake concealed carry shooters for the school shooter’s accomplice. Similarly, debates became quite heated in the YouTube discussions with regards to whether students with concealed carry permits could viably defend against an armed attacker. One source of conflict centred on the ability of students to adequately defend without inadvertently hitting an innocent bystander. Other YouTube users rebuffed such concerns, stating that concealed carry permit holders were well-trained and thus would be able to shoot the school shooter without hitting any innocent bystanders.

Another dispute in YouTube discussions was how law enforcement would know whether the persons firing guns were attacking or defending. Several of my interviewees from GVP groups drew similar conclusions that a situation involving concealed carry holders firing back would likely create an ‘O.K. Corral situation,’ where law enforcement cannot distinguish between the two groups. Such sentiments take the form of an ‘anticipatory state’ where people are surmising about potential dangers which could arise in a certain scenario. (1) The YouTube commentators’ counter-responses to the concerns that law enforcement would not be able to distinguish between the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ relied on preconceptions held about the inadequacy of law enforcement. Further to this, the idea that the school shooter and concealed carry ‘protectors’ would be so easily distinguishable relates to what the theorist Robert Spitzer calls the ‘Good Guy-Bad Guy Myth’ where an imagined separation exists between the two and one can easily tell them apart. (2)

Perhaps an explanation for this idealistic separation lies in the dichotomy between ‘criminals’ and ‘law-abiding citizens’ terms also prolific throughout YouTube comments. In such discussions, the ‘Criminal Other’ is a ‘Boogeyman’ onto which anxieties can be projected (3). In this case, YouTube users emotively refer to those within that group as ‘psychopaths’ or ‘psychotic’ and have the preconceptions that criminals, especially school shooters, will be able to circumvent the law to obtain guns and will kill indiscriminately. This is where the ‘law-abiding citizen’ fantasy figure comes in: the ‘ideal’ gun owner who is responsible, controlled, well-trained and willing to protect others. Relating these findings to Walter Lippmann’s notion of the ‘stereotype,’ showing these good guy-bad guy perceptions are something people are told about and hence imagine before they actually experience it. (4) In reality, it seems that a concealed carry permit holder firing their gun would likely cause further problems, whether it be from inadvertently hitting an innocent bystander or being mistaken as an attacker by other concealed carry holders and/or law enforcement — considering all of this gives credence to the idea documented in the title’s quotation that successful self-defence from concealed carry is a fantasy.

[This blog is the final in a series of discussions about concealed carry on campus. It was formed using analyses from interviews with GVP group members and YouTube comments. The next post will move on to look at the role of law enforcement in schools in preventing and managing school shooting attacks.]

  1. Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 155.
  2. Spitzer, R. J. (2012) The Politics of Gun Control (fifth edition). Boulder, Colorado; London: Paradigm Publishers, 176.
  3. Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 151.
  4. Lippman, W. (1922) Public Opinion. Free Press: New York.