Biden angry speech SOTU
President Joe Biden talks about passing an assault weapons band as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
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By Melissa K. Merry, University of Louisville and Aaron Smith-Walter, UMass Lowell

Biden calls for assault weapon ban – but does focus on military-style guns and mass shootings undermine his message?

Among those attending the State of Union address on Feb. 7, 2022, was Brandon Tsay. Invited by President Joe Biden, the 26-year-old has been hailed as a hero for disarming a gunman who killed 11 people in a mass shooting in Monterey Park, California.

Biden mentioned Tsay by name as he launched into a segment of the speech in which he implored lawmakers to ban assault weapons “once and for all.”

We are political science scholars who study the framing of the gun policy debate in America. We believe the framing exemplified by Biden’s speech – which focuses on high-profile mass shootings and the role of assault weapons over other firearms – helps explain why so many Americans feel gun laws are doomed to fail.

Do gun laws work?

The Monterey Park rampage on Jan. 21 was just one of a number of mass shootings to occur in California in January. Two days after that event, seven people were killed at Half Moon Bay, while a mass shooting in Oakland claimed another life.

With over 100 gun control laws, California has an “A” rating from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and is ranked No. 1 in the country in gun law strength by gun control advocates Everytown for Gun Safety. How, then, could multiple mass shootings occur in California, leaving at least 19 dead and many others injured, in the span of one week?

The answer is nuanced and complex. First, stricter gun control laws do reduce gun-related deaths. This is true for homicides, suicides and accidental shootings. In California, the annual death rate from gun violence is 8.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with the national average of 13.7.

However, the effectiveness of state gun laws is influenced by those of other states. Trafficking of guns across state lines for purposes both legal and illicit is well documented, and guns used in crimes are more likely to flow from less regulated states into those with stronger gun laws.

According to a 2018 study, there are at least 393 million guns in the United States, making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. Given the wave of pandemic-fueled gun buying that started in 2020, that number is likely much higher.

Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the accused gunman in a mass shooting last month in California, is recognized by President Joe Biden as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Reframing the issue

Beyond these facts, the question of why mass shootings continue to happen reveals how policymakers, media, interest groups and citizens understand the problem.

Using an approach called the narrative policy framework, we identify the stories that politicians and interest groups tell about the problem of gun violence and how they use these stories to build political support for their policy goals. A policy narrative typically contains characters – the victims and perpetrators of violence; a setting – the location and other contextual details; and a moral or solution.

Research shows that gun policy narratives often focus on mass shootings while placing less emphasis on more common forms of gun injury and death, such as individual homicides and suicides. Studying the communications of gun policy organizations from 2000 to 2017, one of us found that gun control groups mentioned mass shootings in 30% of their blogs, emails and press releases, and in 11% of their Facebook posts. They devoted significantly less attention to all other types of gun violence.

This emphasis, however, does not accurately reflect statistics on gun injury and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2020, more than 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. More than half of those deaths were suicides, while over 40% were murders.

Mass shootings – defined by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive as shooting incidents involving four or more victims – accounted for just 0.1% of gun fatalities.

The overemphasis on mass shootings likely has many causes, not least of which is the media’s tendency to highlight dramatic and shocking events. Given that public support for gun control temporarily increases in the wake of mass shootings, these events create brief windows of opportunity for policy change. Thus, it should be no surprise that gun control groups highlight mass shootings in their policy narratives.

Futility arguments

In asking how mass shootings like the recent ones in California could happen, it’s important to acknowledge the implicit argument that precedes the question: the idea that gun laws simply don’t work.

This argument, which is pervasive in the gun policy debate, is labeled the futility thesis. The futility thesis holds that attempts at political change will ultimately amount to nothing, because the policy fails to appreciate that it is attempting to alter fundamental aspects of society.

In the case of gun policy, this may include the observation that the United States contains a constitutional right to bear arms, or that the country has a long-standing gun culture. Gun rights organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, also frequently claim that gun regulations do not work because criminals do not respect the law. According to this logic, any attempt to address the prevalence of firearms or to reduce criminal gun violence is destined to fail.

Consequences for politics and policy

As social scientists, we seek both to identify the major gun policy narratives and to explore their consequences. One potential consequence of focusing on mass shootings is it can lead policymakers to focus on solutions that address just one facet of the gun violence problem.

For instance, Democratic politicians and gun control advocates often call for a ban on “assault weapons,” with a focus on military-style rifles like the AR-15, while most shooting deaths in the U.S. involve handguns.

With each mass shooting, these arguments are reproduced, and over time the policy debate has become increasingly polarized. It is no wonder that while many Americans approve of federal efforts to regulate firearms, most don’t expect legislation to do much to reduce gun violence.

Is there a way to break the policy stalemate and make real progress on the problem of gun violence? We suggest that one path forward is to reformulate the policy narratives to better capture the full scope and severity of the problem. Mass shootings are horrific tragedies, but so is every gun death.

The Conversation

Melissa K. Merry, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Louisville and Aaron Smith-Walter, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UMass Lowell

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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  1. “Biden calls for assault weapon ban – but does focus on military-style guns and mass shootings undermine his message?”

    Ok, so that strategy has failed, so lets start up another narrative and see if it sticks.

    • handguns induce a racial element…as it is blacks who most often misuse them…this appears to be a conversation they’d rather not have…

    • >40 cal,

      Oh, ya THINK?? The Leftist/fascists will keep throwing s*** against the wall, hoping it sticks, until they get what they want. They will NEVER stop. Idiots like dacian the demented and MinorLiar don’t know the meaning of “take the ‘L’; their whole LIVES have been one constant ‘L’, so they’re used to it.

      As MANY others have noted, the Leftist/fascists’ obsessive focus on “gun control” is ALL about control, the guns are just the ‘low-hanging fruit’. The hardcore fascists won’t be happy until they have put EVERY person with ANY libertarian or conservative ideas in a re-education camp.

    • The stats say nazis were white, the kkk was white like you. In orher words the problem is the Criminal Misuse of Firearms. And criminals are known to come in all colors, shapes, sizes, gender, age, etc.

        • Nothing to do with killings in the ghettos? Really? I would argue that racism drove the blacks into the inner cities, racism drove whites into the suburbs, and racism trapped the blacks in the ghettos, while yet more racism passed laws that apply to the ghettos, but not to the suburbs.

          I mean, it’s perfectly legal for you to own an arsenal 40 miles outside of Philadelphia, but the city has it’s own laws to prevent residents possession. What’s more, racist cops have the discretion to enforce the law harshly in some cases, and less harshly in other cases. Racist prosecutors have always had the discretion to prosecute or dismiss, and we all know that if you’re black and poor, you won’t get dismissed.

          It ain’t turtles all the way down, Bubba – it’s racism.

        • Paul, Quit the B/S! There is nothing holding a Black or other “minority” in a “ghetto.” If that is where they DON’T want to live, it is up to them to do something about it.

        • Debbie W,

          robsht…Are you saying nazis and the kkk were not not finger pointing “white trash bigots like you?”

          First you call me names and then you call me a “white trash bigot”
          What if I told you that I’m African American and have seen more then my fair share of black on black killings?

          Who is the BIGOT now Debbie?

        • Paul,

          Go argue with yourself. I was born in Chicago’s Englewood hospital and grew up in Chicago’s “Back of the Yards”. I also owned a business at W Madison and N Keeler which is Garfield Park.

          Garfield Park and Englewood are two of Chicagos most dangerous neighborhoods.

          Both are what you would call “ghettos” but I moved to the suburbs and my brother stayed in the “Back of the Yards” and had a family.
          He is buried in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery for veterans.
          To put it mildly my nieces and nephews grew up to be criminals.

          This is real life and not a thesis.
          Plus what is what all the name calling?
          Does that somehow add anything to your “argument”?
          Bubba? Really?

          Just so you are a bit more informed when someone is shot they usually bleed a lot. After the crime scene is processed the fire department comes with a firetruck and hoses the blood up with five or more CPD vehicles sitting there. I saw this weekly in Garfield Park. The Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings have been fighting over turf for decades in Garfield Park.

  2. Yada, yada, yada…Jim Crow Gun Control joe is protected by the Assault Weapons he claims to disdain.
    So turn in your F-14s, assault weapons, tanks, grenades joe biden and the Gun hunter and his deceased brother’s wife tossed in a dumpster and the US munitions you left in Afghanistan for terrorists or stfu you self serving democRat ratbassturd.

      • Debbie W. is some white dude who pretends to be a woman.
        That way they can run their mouth about things they know nothing about.
        He talks about Jim Crow but has no real understanding of what it was.
        He could be Bernie Sanders posing a woman and uses stfu.
        That is because it wont get caught by the filter.
        The nazis and the kkk part is the real kicker, lots of kkk running around.

  3. Trouble is they can’t refocus on the murderers with handguns because that would violate their “woke” sensibilities and pointing out suicides brings up all sort of problematic issues like deinstitutionalization, collapse of the family structure, poor treatment of veterans, modern media/social media affects on mental health, interpersonal relationships tainted by media provoked hostilities, all those brain drugs with that pesky side effect of “suicidal ideation,” etc…

    It’s much safer to just run with “gunz r bad” “ban da gunz.”

  4. Let me know when you are physically ready to de-nazify our .gov and education system. It will require executions and seizures of assets and decertification of degrees and licenses.

    Let me know when you’ve had enough.

  5. I can understand why politicians and the media do it, but why academics include suicide in these studies escapes me. Why would you lump mental health in with criminal violence? Combining the two won’t give you good numbers for either.

    • You really do understand it though. They (politicians, academics, journalists, activists) are intellectually dishonest and real data nor real solutions are of no interest to them. They want a result of outlawing gun ownership and could not care any less about the real-world impact on people’s lives. Morally bankrupt idealogues.

    • Because Liberal Progressive academia and Democrat politicians are making the push to connect violent criminals who use guns illegally and mental illness. As a way to limit their guilt because no one in their right mind would commit such acts of Evil. Even to the point of using it to justify Criminal Justice Reform. Once they can solidly make that connection. The next step is connecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms with mental illness because no one in their right mind needs to own a firearm. This is why we are seeing the push to label ‘gun violence’ as a public health crisis. They have attempted to use every other avenue to restrict or remove firearms from private ownership. Now they are turning to mental illness. They have indoctrinated children to believe their emotions and feelings are more important that learning the skills, abilities and knowledge necessary to become successful citizens. Then tell them that everything that’s wrong in their lives is because of some sort of mental deficiency or illness. Brought on by a society that doesn’t understand or protect them. It has become the ultimate ‘Grooming’ in order achieve the social engineering goals that have been in place for the last 40+ years.

    • They need a high number of ‘gun deaths’ to make the problem seem more urgent.

      Never mind that the policies that could reduce suicide and policies that address criminal violence have almost no overlap.

    • The fact is, they are not academics. They speak using the progressive terminology. What they really are, are social engineers, trying to figure out how to change American culture. Progressive social engineers. There are no progressive academics, and any claim that such a thing exists is dishonest.

  6. Remember what Elon Musk said: “The Real President is whoever controls the teleprompter.” Biden is nothing more than a Manchurian Candidate in an empty suit. His ‘Handlers’ are making all the decisions. He is the trade off made by the Liberal Progressive Democrat Leadership. Foe allowing an old man to live out his dream of being President.

  7. “According to a 2018 study, there are at least 393 million guns in the United States, making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. Given the wave of pandemic-fueled gun buying that started in 2020, that number is likely much higher.”


  8. Most (80%+) homicides and injuries perpetrated using firearms are gang-related and occur in urban environments.

    The United States has an urban gang problem.

    • Murders in US Are Very Concentrated, and They Are Becoming Even More So

      12 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2023
      John R. Lott

      Crime Prevention Research Center

      Date Written: January 17, 2023

  9. So what is her proposed solution? She mentions “other types of violence”, does she suggest addressing people who commit violence? She mentions handguns, the closest we got to a handgun ban was 1934 which is still working itself out in the pistol-brace goat-rope.

    The best I can surmise she’s just telling her tribe to “stop it already” but I doubt that’s accurate.

  10. pseudo-assault weapons are low hanging fruit….and owners are pre-dominately white…thus forming the perfect target group….

  11. First complaint seems to be firearms are being brought into California from out of state.As well as firearms coming into cities like Chicago, Philly, etc. Well, we tried to outlaw alcohol a century ago. Suddenly booze was coming from Canada, the Bahamas, Cuba, etc. Seems if there is a market, someone will find a way to meet the demand and profit from it.
    Sorry, but no ban, restriction, law, or licensing scheme is going to prevent the next deranged fool, or angry or unhappy person from finding a weapon or method to do whatever they have in mind. Nor will any of those laws etc. stop those of criminal intent from arming themselves.
    So gun control is a fools errand at best. Don’t forget every shooting or act of violence with a firearm still involves a human hand to load and hold that firearm.
    Unless and until the human is dealt with, through mental health treatment if needed before hand, or incarceration after the fact, nothing will change.
    As for the inner city issues or the issues of minority neighborhoods, until the people in those choose to do something about the criminals in their midst nothing will change. Until the voters decide to force the politicians to actually do something useful and not punish the non criminals wanting to exercise their rights, again, nothing will change.

  12. This is the argument they want to eventually use for a one-world government: “Gun laws don’t work here because other nations….. so we need worldwide gun laws”.

  13. How about not making the state daddy? statistics bear out that to be the one of the best methods of reducing gun violence and suicide.

  14. 400,000,000 legal guns.
    Over one trillion rounds of ammo.
    Were guns the problem,
    there would be no question.

    However, gun control is effective.
    As confirmed by Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Lenin,
    Chavez, Castro, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, et el.

    As Bill O’Reilly observed, “Bad guys shooting people is the price of freedom. Liberty is risky business. That’s why our Founding Fathers recognized our God-given right to shoot back.”

  15. Nice try Poli Sci, but you still ignored the Revolving Door Release policies and all the other deterrents that DemoCommiecrats have destroyed and deconstructed that have only served to increase the rise in crime. Your “Poor Criminal,””It’s Not Their Fault, But Societies” belief system has caused nothing but more murder and mayhem.

    Back to the Think Tank Commies.

  16. Sigh – any time an ‘academic’ uses terms like “nuanced and complex” you know up front that they are going to baffle you with bull – or statistics. Or as Lucy Van Pelt said: “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, be wrong at the top of your voice”.

  17. Moronic democrats like biden and obama sell weapons by their uninformed, anti-Constitutional rhetoric. If they would STFU, less weapons would be sold. They would also sound less foolish…


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