Research/Study Research/Study

How media covered Biden’s renewed call for an assault weapons ban

  • In the wake of the horrific mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Fox News covered President Joe Biden’s renewed call for a nationwide assault weapons ban less than CNN and MSNBC. Biden has fought for a ban on assault weapons since his initial push to include an assault weapons ban in the 1994 crime bill. 

    From March 27, when Biden made his call to renew the assault weapons ban, through 9 a.m. March 30, Fox News covered Biden’s declaration for only 27 minutes. By contrast, CNN devoted an hour and 17 minutes to the renewed call, while MSNBC spent 43 minutes on it.

    CNN’s coverage was at times in support of the proposed assault weapons ban and highlighted “decades” of data that shows making deadly weapons harder to own will reduce gun violence. Meanwhile, Fox frequently attacked Biden’s proposal for an assault weapons ban, claiming that we can’t ban them in the wake of “things like Russia collusion, Hunter Biden laptop,” or placing the blame on Biden for a lack of action while ignoring Republican filibusters in the Senate.

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 28, 2023, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • In print coverage, from March 27 through March 30, 12 of the 21 total articles about the Covenant School shooting in the top five newspapers by circulation mentioned Biden’s call for an assault weapons ban. USA Today was the worst offender, only mentioning the call for a ban in one of its five articles on the shooting. In articles that mentioned Biden’s call for legislative action, only half also mentioned the GOP’s current and historical opposition to gun control efforts. 

    As the country navigates the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, the need for an assault weapons ban has become even clearer. As Everytown for Gun Safety’s Nick Suplina noted, “Assault weapons, especially when equipped with high-capacity magazines, make them [mass shootings] more deadly. … If something is legally and commonly available, you’re only increasing the likelihood that it will be misused and or fall into the hands of somebody who is prohibited from possessing them.” According to Everytown, we would see 70% fewer mass shooting deaths if Congress was to pass a federal assault weapons ban.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for either of the terms “Biden” or “president” within close proximity of either of the terms “assault” or “weapon” and the term “ban” from March 27, 2023, when President Joe Biden renewed the call for an assault weapons ban, through 9 a.m. ET March 30, 2023.

    We also searched articles in the Factiva database from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today for any of the terms “shot,” “gun violence,” “death,” “attack,” or “assault” or any variation of any of the terms “shoot,” “wound,” “kill,” “injure,” “gunfire,” or “terror” in the same headline or lead paragraph as any of the term “Nashville,” “Covenant School,” “Hale,” or “transgender man” or any of the terms “Christian,” “private,” or “elementary” within five words of “school” from March 27, 2023, when the shooting occurred, through March, 30, 2023.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when Biden’s renewed call for an assault weapons ban was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the call. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the proposed ban with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Biden’s call without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Biden’s proposed ban scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    We also included articles, which we defined as instances when the Covenant School shooting was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraph. We included articles published in the respective papers’ news sections; we did not include editorial, op-eds, or letters-to-the-editor.

    We then reviewed all identified articles for whether they mentioned any of the following within the body of the article: that the shooter had assault weapons, that Biden has called for a ban on the types of assault weapons used in the shooting, the legislative history of assault weapons bans in Tennessee specifically or the United States more generally, or Republican opposition to Biden’s current call for an assault weapons ban or past gun control legislation.