Sometimes the rift between gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates is so massive you could fit all 11,078 bodies from firearm-related homicides—from 2009 alone—in the void. Gun enthusiasts often refer to gun control advocates as gun grabbers (#gungrabbers on Twitter) and fear that they want to infringe on their Second Amendement right to own guns ad infinitum. Meanwhile, those in favor of gun control often see gun rights advocates as pistol-toting yokels who want firearms in every corner of society.
Both characterizations are not always true. So, for the sake of public health and safety, we can only hope that there is room for compromise somewhere. Either way, each side is packing heat with controversial advertisements, public service announcements (PSAs), and outreach.
As part of Gun Week at the2x2project, this special edition of PopAds explores the ways in which advertising, PSAs, and outreach shape the debate around firearm availability and impact in the United States.
In the wake of Newtown, a home and school shooting that resulted in 28 deaths, including that of the shooter, the long-debated issue of gun control was reignited in the U.S. Just days later, celebrities plead their case, asking “how many more…” people had to die before we do something to end gun violence. Some were inspired by the ad and went on to rally to reduce gun violence through what is now everytown.org. Others spoofed it. Despite the ad and a failed push for gun control legislation, 68 school shootings have taken place since that at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
A common argument for gun rights advocates is that it’s a way for women to protect themselves from violence and/or rape. In this PSA from the National Association for Gun Rights, the text reads “Mama Didn’t Raise a Victim” as this woman wields a firearm. It’s a tempting proposition, given 164,240 women were raped, subject to attempted rape or sexually assaulted in 2011 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
However, research has addressed how an individual who is armed with a gun actually fares during an assault. Some studies indicate that regulatory measures that reduce gun availability among the noncriminal majority could also reduce defensive gun uses that would have saved lives, prevented injuries, thwarted rape attempts, or driven off burglars. However, a rigorous follow-up study interviewed 677 participants that had been shot in an assault and 684 population-based control participants in Philadelphia between 2003 and 2006. Individuals in possession of a gun were over four times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Given the conflicted findings, this is still a hotly debated subject.
There are an estimated 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the United States, a figure the dwarfs other developed countries. In addition, Americans are 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other countries, as everytown.org has shown in PSAs. It is a trend that deserves more in-depth research.
However, in terms of government initiatives for further study, the most apt governmental organization to approach the issue through a public health lens, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), has $0 devoted to gun violence prevention research. Some have suggested that the lack of funding may be a fear of confronting the National Rifle Association (NRA), a major lobbying group for gun rights.
Crickett, My First Rifle offers “Quality Firearms for America’s Youth.” For this writer, in particular, who started shooting small .22 caliber rifles from age 11 at Boy Scout camp, this is not as shocking as it may be for others. But, the continued focus of the firearms industry to market guns to more and younger children is a serious public health concern. On an individual level, this particular type of Crickett rifle, offered in various colors, was used in an accidental death of the two-year-old sister at the hands of her five-year-old brother in Kentucky. A review of hospital records from 2009 showed that firearms caused 7,391 hospitalizations among children and adolescents younger than age 20. Of those victims, 453 died while in hospital. It is not entirely clear that these deaths among youth were always at the hands of other youth. But, that 20 children and adolescents were hospitalized each day in 2009 suggests public health efforts are needed to reduce this common source of childhood injury.
The preceding poster was created by designer Rick Boyko in 1980 after John Lennon’s assassination. When controlling for population size, these numbers indicate there are 20 times as many handgun deaths in the United States compared to Canada (not 200 times more, as it appears when not controlling for population size). Handguns, however, are all too common in America—there are reportedly 114,000,000 handguns in the U.S.
Much gun control debate centers around the differences in guns today and in the past. This particular PSA from ceasefireusa.org, an organization devoted to preventing gun violence through state policy, shockingly draws attention to what might happen if a killer on a rampage brought a rifled musket to a mass killing. These rifles, which were the “arms” written about in the Second Amendment, were notoriously inaccurate and took about 20-30 seconds to reload.
Contrast this with the Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle, which can fire about 45 rounds per minute and can accommodate high capacity clips. It was used at the Sandy Hook shooting. Of the 67 mass shootings in America from 1982 to 2012, more than half of the killers possessed high-capacity magazines, assault weapons or both. The Assault Weapons Ban proposed in 2013, would have outlawed 48 weapons used in the mass shootings between 1982 and 2012. However, the Senate voted the bill down.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, advocating for armed guards in American schools, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre stated that the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Many questioned this approach, citing the example of armed guards at the Columbine mass shooting in 1999 who were unable to stop Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold from killing 15 and wounding 23 at the school. The official NRA PSA seen above followed Mr. LaPierre’s statement, suggesting that opposition to the plan to arm school guards by President Obama and others is elitist hypocrisy, given that he and his daughters are protected by armed guards.
The proposal to place guards at schools resonated with some. But, many, including the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten considered it outlandish. She called the report “a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe,” adding that the findings “are simply designed to assist gun manufacturers flood the nation and our schools with more guns.”
Although systems for protecting children are clearly necessary in the wake of Sandy Hook and other school shootings, the problem is much bigger than just mass shootings at schools. After all, less than 1 percent of student homicides and suicides take place at school, on the way to or from school, or during school sponsored events.
Again, the type of weapons, particularly semiautomatic, high capacity weapons, have been called into question for their ability to do more damage than non-semiautomatic guns or bolt-action rifles. Making comparisons between banned and legal firearms, this PSA from momsdemandaction.org points out the hypocrisy of banning dodge ball or “Little Red Riding Hood” (because of the wine in her basket), when we don’t regulate assault-style weapons.
More so than any of the mass shootings that have taken center stage in the gun debate, low-income urban areas in the U.S. have contributed greatly to the death toll from firearms. Metropolitan areas in 2009 had a homicide rate of 5.2 per 100,000 compared to 3.4 in non-metropolitan areas.
This PSA featuring actor Samuel L. Jackson touches on this population. His approach is a tough love approach, saying there is nobody to blame but ourselves for gun violence, regardless of the circumstances. The strong message makes quite an impact—even Jackson himself doesn’t think gun control would solve the problem.
Ultimately, there may be nobody else to blame, but there may be more to do. This is where public health approaches could take a role. More research to understand the dynamics of firearm-related deaths and public health interventions may help us determine successful ways to reduce deaths. Low-income urban areas are primarily populated by black and Hispanic families. Therefore, racial and ethnic disparities manifest as clearly in gun-related homicides as in other health outcomes. Non-Hispanic blacks lose more lives from gun-related homicides compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S. By using a public health lens to better understand the social, economic, and political elements that contribute to the ongoing death toll, we may find an answer to reducing the firearm-related deaths of which so many Americans have had enough.
Edited by Dana March