Video: Dan Romer Discusses the Links Between the Media and Firearm Violence

What do the news and entertainment media have to do with gun violence?

Speaking on a panel at the University of Pennsylvania’s 2018 “Teach-In,” Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) research director Dan Romer looked at the connections between the media and three kinds of firearm violence — suicide, homicide, and murder-suicide. He emphasized the effect on youth, people ages 15 to 24, since they bear a disproportionate burden of gun violence “and there’s good reason to believe that is directly associated with their heavy use of entertainment media,” he told the crowd at the LDI-Penn Injury Science Center Session on firearm violence.

Romer said that the news has particular influence on suicide. Suicides — especially those described in news coverage in great detail — show a “very strong imitation effect,” he said. News coverage is relevant as well to mass shootings, many of which are murder-suicides, so news influences on mass suicide have become a source of interest to researchers. [See Romer’s talk below.]

Romer also argued that popular culture, as embodied in movies, television and video games, appears to have an influence on firearm ownership. Those media tend to glorify the use of guns and weapons, especially over the last 10 or 15 years, and “that has an influence on young people because young people get socialized, in part, through entertainment media.”

Romer cited a regression analysis (Lemieux, 2014) of spending on movies featuring guns in 25 countries, which found that the rate of spending on gun movies predicts the rate of gun ownership in those countries — “a pretty astounding finding.”

Romer also cited research that he and colleagues at APPC have done on gun violence in popular movies, finding a rapid growth in the amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies, which are open to children. The amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies surpasses that in R-rated films, which are restricted to adults, according to their 2017 paper in Pediatrics.

Gun violence in popular PG-13 and R-rated movies. From Dan Romer's presentation.
Gun violence in popular PG-13 and R-rated movies. From Dan Romer’s presentation.

For more videos from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics forum “The Science of Quantifying the Impact of Firearm Violence” on March 19, 2018, click here. Credit homepage photo and video: Hoag Levins/LDI