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The Binary Problem: Marginalizing Important Issues Related to Gun Violence

This 5-page essay by Regina Kelly, a PhD student at the University of Arizona, was written for the University of AZ’s National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD).  After the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, NICD called for essays to address the challenges of conducting constructive conversations about gun violence in the U.S. As part of their mission, NICD seeks to promote civil discourse on issues of public interest and does not take a policy position on gun violence or gun control but is committed to encouraging a civil discussion.

NICD_logoMs. Kelly’s essay focuses on how media coverage of events like the January 8th, 2011 Tucson shooting make it difficult to talk about gun violence among people with different views.

Articulation of the Question
How do America’s mainstream media outlets influence how we think through complex issues related to gun violence? Specifically, how does the media’s common use of the binary frame influence the process? Mainstream media exerts tremendous influence on how we think and talk to each other not only in local public spheres but also in broader efforts to craft policies to prevent future gun violence. Attention should therefore be paid to how the media frames issues.

Closing Recommendations
Two recommendations emerge from this analysis with respect to conducting public, local discussions. First, journalists from mainstream media newspapers and TV stations should not serve as facilitators of public discussions in relation to gun violence, given that the position of facilitator is one of neutrality. Instead, journalists should be invited to explain and defend their coverage, framing, and analysis in relation to gun violence, in exactly the same way that we invite political representatives to explain and defend their positions on gun violence.

Second, public discussion should be informed by the work of researchers, experts and commentators who have investigated how different causal forces in relation to gun violence might interact and interrelate. Such citizens can model for us all how differences can be “dialogized”—as Fairclough puts it—and not just polemicized. In this dialogue, in this openness to different perspectives, in this identification of where ideas overlap and interrelate, we might begin to craft collective responses that are more likely to protect us all, and substantially prevent innocent suffering and death.

Resource Link: https://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/Kelly-BinaryProblem.pdf (download)

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