New Harvard Research Reveals How Conservative Media Infects The National Conversation On Guns

A new survey of firearm experts reveals a consensus debunking the myths the gun lobby and conservative media use to try to infect the national dialogue on gun safety to create the appearance of legitimate debate.

Firearms Experts Debunk Conservative Media's Favorite Gun Talking Points

New Harvard Research Shows Clear Expert Consensus Against Gun Lobby And Conservative Media Talking Points. New research from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center shows that firearms experts are in consensus against many of the most prolific talking points from conservative media and the gun lobby. According to an April 2 analysis of the research by Mother Jones, the study revealed that the arguments pushed by the gun lobby “don't stand up to scrutiny.” Quoting David Hemenway, the center's director, the article noted that some in the media have continued to promote myths about guns, treating them as “legitimate points of debate” and inserting doubt where there is in fact a consensus among experts in the field (emphasis added):

Anyone familiar with the gun debate has heard the talking points of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates: “Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.” Or: “If only more ordinary citizens were armed, they could stop mass shootings.” As we've shown in our reporting, these arguments don't stand up to scrutiny. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, commented on another long-running assertion from the gun lobby: “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime,” he told the New York Times.

Yet, Hemenway says that some in the media have continued to treat such assertions as legitimate points of debate. That leaves the public thinking, “Okay, so there's disagreement on this,” he says. [Mother Jones4/2/15]

1. Do Strict Gun Laws Encourage Mass Shootings?

Conservative Media: Strict Gun Laws Encourage Mass Shootings. In January, right-wing media figures rushed to blame France's strict gun policies after three gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo during a terrorist attack. On Fox News' Fox & Friends, network national security analyst KT McFarland said that one thing that stood out to her about the attack is “that in France they have a very strict gun control policy.” Later on The Five, host Greg Gutfeld claimed the victims of the attack were “sitting ducks” because the country “has the most powerful gun control in the world, and nobody's armed.” On Fox Business Network, network senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said, “One of the reasons these people are dead is because they were sitting ducks. One of the reasons they're sitting ducks is you can't carry a gun in Paris. This would not happen in New York City.” On Twitter, frequent Fox guest Donald Trump wrote that the attack occurred “in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world,” implying that somehow the strict laws were at fault for the shooting. [Media Matters1/8/15]

Experts: Strong Gun Laws Help Reduce Homicide. The Harvard survey found that 71 percent of experts agreed that strong gun laws help reduce homicide rates:

Strong Gun Laws Reduce Homicide

[Mother Jones4/2/15]

2. Do Concealed Carry Laws Reduce Crime Rates?

Conservative Media: Concealed Carry Laws Reduce Crime. Conservative media and the NRA have repeatedly pushed the myth that concealed carry laws help reduce crime rates by allowing people to defend themselves. In a March 27 segment on NRA News program Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards made just this argument when he lashed out against a recent editorial that explained concealed weapons would not help reduce rates of campus sexual assault. Edwards defended such laws by claiming that the burden of preventing sexual assault was actually on the victim. Similar arguments have long popped up across conservative media, like on a June 2011 edition of Fox & Friends when guest John Velleco claimed: “Every time a state tries to relax concealed carry laws, we hear the Chicken Littles of the world saying that blood is going to flow in the streets, and it just doesn't happen. In fact, crime doesn't go up, crime goes down, because criminals don't know who is carrying a firearm to defend themselves.” [Media Matters3/31/156/20/11]

Experts: Concealed Carry Laws Don't Reduce Crime Rates.  Sixty-two percent of experts disagreed with claims that concealed carry laws reduce crime rates:

image 2[Mother Jones4/2/15]

3. Does Access To A Firearm Affect Suicide Rates?

Conservative Media: Link Between Firearm Access And Suicide Is Bogus. Conservative media figures have consistently downplayed the role of guns in suicide deaths, despite extensive evidence linking firearm availability to suicide in the United States. In February 2013, NRA News program Cam & Company claimed that “we know that the prevalence of firearms does not always indicate increases in suicides.” That same month on Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter claimed that “suicide rates do not go up with the availability of guns” and that claims to the contrary are “false.” [Media Matters2/21/13]

Experts: Having Guns In The Home Increases Risk Of Suicide. According to the survey, 84 percent of experts agreed that “having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide”:


[Mother Jones4/2/15]

4. Are Guns Used More Often To Commit Crimes Or In Self-Defense?

Conservative Media: Guns Are Mostly Used As Tool For Self-Defense. Right-wing media frequently promote the myth that guns are primarily used for self-defense, despite guns rarely being used for that purpose. Fox News has claimed that guns could “deter more crimes than they cause” while NRA News has daily features on The Sportsman Channel and their SiriusXM radio program promoting the myth. [Media Matters1/3/141/9/13]

Experts: Guns Are Not Used In Self-Defense More Often Than They Are Used In Crimes. Seventy-three percent of experts disagreed with the claim that guns are used “in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime”:


[Mother Jones4/2/15]

5. Do Guns Protects Domestic Violence Victims?

Conservative Media: Guns In The Home Protect Victims Of Domestic Violence. Conservative media argue that looser gun laws would help protect victims of domestic violence, claiming that they would be safer with increased access to guns to use as self-defense. In April 2014,'s AWR Hawkins criticized efforts to raise awareness that the presence of guns in a home make domestic violence situations five times more deadly, saying that “the gun may be the only thing that gives the victim of abuse a fighting chance of survival.” Fox contributor Katie Pavlich told NRA News that the gun safety group was playing on the fears of “ignorant, emotional women.” And former Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller claimed on Fox that these gun safety efforts were merely an effort “to lure in women voters,” arguing that because gun murders are down, it was somehow impossible that domestic murder could be a significant problem facing women. [Media Matters4/18/14]

Experts: Having A Gun In The Home Increases Risk That A Woman Living There Will Be The Victim Of Homicide. The Harvard survey found that 72 percent of experts agreed that “having a gun in the home increases the risk” that a woman living there “will be the victim of homicide”:


[Mother Jones4/2/15]

6. Are Background Checks Effective?

Conservative Media: Background Checks Are Ineffective. Right-wing media figures often claim that requiring background checks on gun sales is unlikely to reduce gun violence, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. In a December 2014 article, the editorial board of the Reno-Gazette-Journal claimed that not only would background checks fail to prevent mass shootings, it would also be “unlikely to be effective” at reducing gun violence in general. In April 2013, Kathleen Parker wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post making a similar claim, asserting that expanding background checks has “no practical purpose” because criminals won't submit to them. [Media Matters12/8/144/11/13]

Experts: Background Checks Can Help Keep Guns Out Of The Hands Of Violent People. Sixty percent of experts agreed that background checks “can help keep guns out of the hands of a significant number of violent people”:

image 6

[Mother Jones4/2/15]