Panel Paper: Gun Stories: How Evidence Shapes Firearm Policy in the United States

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 8:00 AM
3017 Monroe (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Aaron Smith-Walter, Ashley Nicole Reynolds, Holly L. Peterson and Michael D Jones, Virginia Tech
The recent tragedy in Newtown Connecticut has refocused attention on the contentious area of gun control policy in the United States. The chilling image of an armed gunman proceeding methodically through the corridors of Sandy Hook Elementary School has prompted radically different policy solutions to emerge. The National Rifle Association calls for changes in state laws that will allow for school staff to carry weapons into the school, claiming that having armed officers on school grounds constitutes the best defense against further instances of rampage shootings at our nation’s schools. Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of the Gun Owners of America, goes further, advocating that teachers be allowed to carry concealed weapons at schools by eliminating existing laws establishing “gun-free zones.” The Brady Campaign, by contrast, has called for stricter laws that include provisions for universal backgrounds checks and a ban on assault rifles. 

The narratives that a group constructs depict a specific understanding of reality that illuminate the group’s perception of the existing state of affairs.  Such narratives usually characterize a victim being harmed, a villain doing the harm, and often portray a heroic figure or group offering a solution to the problem (usually themselves).  They contain explicit causes and speak to character intention and assign blame.  But not all of the elements of a policy narrative are narrative elements in the traditional humanities sense.  Policy narratives also provide evidence in an attempt to convince others of the efficacy of their proposed solution. Using the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), we examine how three advocacy groups deploy an array of scientific studies, public opinion polls, legal precedents, anecdotes, statistics, and expert endorsements in their attempt to deploy convincing policy narratives in the gun control policy area. The empirical approach associated with the NPF allows this research to effectively quantify the differences in the types of evidence utilized by the groups and examine potential links between the type of evidence deployed and the manner in which the different advocacy groups portray the villains, heroes, and victims in the policy narratives.