CNN’s segment on St. Louis is an improvement in gun violence coverage but we’re not all the way there

After an increasingly violent summer in St. Louis, MO, CNN covered the gun violence epidemic in the city by focusing on the trauma felt by surviving family members. While CNN’s coverage certainly showed progress for a media outlet that typically only covers mass public shootings, it still left room for improvement. 

Since April, according to Vox, “at least 12 children — ranging from ages 2 to 16 — have been killed in fatal gun violence incidents” in St. Louis, and at least 18 children have been killed in the metropolitan area since the start of this year. The city has had the nation’s highest big-city murder rate since 2014, and St. Louis’ Black residents in lower income neighborhoods are the ones predominantly affected. Most of these gun homicides are unsolved, and the city’s mayor recently “announced that police would offer a $100,000 in rewards for information in some of the cases.”  

On August 28, Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-MO) held a town hall on gun violence in St. Louis which more than 300 people attended. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Ten people were slated to ask questions, make comments or provide solutions, but a line of more than 30 people nearly reached out into the hallway.” Clay was joined by St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Mayor Lyda Krewson, as well as members of the St. Louis Black Aldermanic Caucus and the gun safety group Moms Demand Action. Clay introduced his bill to the crowd, explaining that the Local Public Health and Safety Protection Act would give local governments the ability to create their own gun laws. Attendees also signed letters to Missouri Sens. Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt, both Republicans, to pass the universal background check bill.    

In a CNN segment that ran twice on August 29, CNN’s national correspondent Ryan Young highlighted the young victims of St. Louis gun violence, interviewing distraught families who Young said “told us they want the nation to feel their pain.” The segment also featured contentious clips from the town hall, with residents demanding Clay and others take action to control the violence.

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Citation From the August 29 edition of CNN's New Day:


RYAN YOUNG (CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): John, I don’t know if you could imagine this, but we were talking to several of these families.They have other kids in the household and now they are personally touched by all that is going on. And a lot of these murderers haven't been caught yet. You have community leaders saying look there's an urban decay that’s going on in the city that has to stop somehow. But so far, there are no short solutions to this long-term problem. 

JOHN AVALON (CO-HOST): Ryan, thank you so much for telling us the names and showing us the faces, because these aren't just numbers, these are lives. They're husbands and wives and sisters and brothers and children. Children being killed there. It's important to know about them. Thank you so much. 

ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): That was so effective and so affecting, Ryan's piece there. And including the sort of collateral damage of even people who try to save their lives and people who witnessed it. And how they themselves will be traumatized for so long. And one last thing, you know, if cities can sue opioid manufacturers for an epidemic, why can’t they sue gun manufacturers for the epidemic of gun violence?

The 3 ½ minute segment was a noticeable improvement in how mainstream networks usually cover everyday gun violence in big cities. They often either ignore the story altogether or dismiss it as “gang violence.” 

Fox News did mention the recent gun violence leading up to the town hall by noting the death toll in a headline segment. Another segment briefly mentioned a young victim in St. Louis, but guest host Brian Kilmeade focused primarily on the “political culture” of cities dealing with gun violence, declaring, “Sadly, crimes like this are routine in some of America’s most liberal cities.” Apart from framing the issue to criticize Democratic politicians -- a favorite strategy on Fox -- the network made little effort to add any substance to the conversation about gun violence. 

Gun safety advocates have been imploring media outlets to give more attention to communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, specifically in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, MD, and Chicago, IL. While CNN’s segment emphasized the trauma survivors and family members of victims experience that is often left out of media narratives, there is still room for improvement by adding necessary context.

After Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase law requiring prospective gun owners to obtain a license before buying a firearm in 2007, “statewide murder rates spiked 14 percent,” and there was an increase in the number of crime guns “that were purchased in Missouri and later recovered by police in neighboring states.” From 2012-2017, the overall murder rate in St. Louis increased by 48%, but the murder rate in nine of the city’s 88 neighborhods increased by 82%. Most of these neighborhoods are predominantly low-income and minority communities, reflecting a nationwide trend of those most affected by gun homicides.       

The CNN segment also did not mention two gun-safety bills brought up during the August 28 town hall in St. Louis, both of which have already passed the U.S. House of Representatives; the universal background check bill and Clay’s bill that “provides grants to states which allow local governments to enact gun safety ordinances in their communities,” such as requiring a permit to conceal carry a firearm, which Missouri currently does not.