Journalist’s Resource –   Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center:  Talking About Guns

One year ago, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and it fueled the ongoing debate about gun policy in the United States.

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections, we’ll be covering some of the controversial issues that divide the nation. It’s safe to say that guns are divisive.

More than four in 10 U.S. adults live in a gun-owning household, and nearly five in 10 say they grew up with guns in the home, according to 2017 survey data from Pew Research Center. Some 44 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who has been shot, either deliberately or accidentally, according to Pew’s report, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns.”

Yet many journalists seem to have trouble relating to people who own or use guns. “In my experience of training thousands of journalists over 20 years, I often ask them how many own a gun or have never fired a gun,” Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute who teaches journalists how to cover guns, told Journalist’s Resource’s managing editor in an e-mail this week. “The overwhelming majority of the people I have asked that, by a wide margin, have not held or fired a weapon and they say they do not like guns.”

If you’re covering guns, at the very least, it’s important to get the terminology right. Regardless of the story, a lot of people will notice reporting errors — such as when journalists mistakenly call cartridges “bullets” or incorrectly state that all automatic weapons are banned. That’s why we’ve published a tip sheet for reporting on guns, developed with help from our friends at The Trace and a reporter who covered crime at the Orlando Sentinel for 25 years. We’ve also gathered research to help reporters consider how they cover gun owners.

Finally, our latest research roundup looks at the issue of gun storage from a public health perspective. Among the findings: Approximately 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in homes in which at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked.

Below you’ll find more details about and links to those pieces, as well as the opportunity to share them.

Yours in knowledge,

Carmen Nobel, program director of Journalist’s Resource 


Who stores guns safely?

Households with guns have a higher likelihood of gun injury. Research indicates that around 7 percent of children in the United States live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, which is more than twice as high as a previous estimate from 2002. Safe storage practices can help to limit unauthorized users’ access to firearms. This roundup features research that puts numbers to firearm storage trends in the U.S.
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7 things you should know about guns

We teamed up with two reporters who know a lot about firearms to create a tip sheet that briefs journalists on basic terminology and warns them about some of the pitfalls of covering gun issues.
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How the media portray gun owners

We’ve gathered research to help journalists consider how they cover a group with whom many may have trouble relating: gun owners and people who use firearms. Research suggests the news media doesn’t present a complete picture of gun-owning Americans and may be silencing perspectives that would show gun ownership in a more favorable light.
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