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Covering guns

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Dear readers,

Each time the U.S. mourns another mass shooting, many politicians and policymakers call for gun reforms, including tightening controls on who can buy firearms. 

As journalists cover the aftermath of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, and a string of accidental shootings across several states, I’d like to remind you of some of the resources we’ve created to help with that work. 


  • Can universal background checks curb gun violence? Here’s what the research says: This analysis, updated Friday with new research, examines the academic literature on how effectively background checks reduce firearm deaths. The main takeaway: Checking people’s criminal and mental health histories before allowing them to buy guns can curb gun violence when this policy is paired with gun licensing strategies such as permit-to-purchase programs, which require individuals to obtain permits before purchasing firearms.
  • 7 things journalists should know about guns: This tip sheet, which we also updated last week, briefs journalists on basic gun terminology and warns them of some of the pitfalls of covering guns in the U.S. Among the tips: When reporting on firearms, refer to the make and model to avoid errors. And remember there’s a difference between a bullet and a cartridge. 
  • The multibillion-dollar costs of firearm injuriesWe spotlight studies that look at the everyday toll of gun violence, particularly injuries, which lead to billions of dollars in hospital bills and lost work time every year. Ongoing treatment of injuries, including being readmitted to the hospital, makes up a substantial portion of those costs.

This week, I’d like to also draw your attention to a piece we just published on confirmation bias in journalism — seeking out information and evidence that confirms, rather than refutes, journalists’ questions, hypotheses or beliefs. In it, behavioral scientist Carey Morewedge urges reporters and editors to think more deeply about how they approach news coverage, including the questions asked and details left out.

«Confirmation bias can be induced by our own values and motives (e.g., values, fears, politics, economic incentives), and by the way in which a problem or a question is framed,» writes Morewedge, a marketing professor at Boston University and a fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

He notes confirmation bias can influence various stages of the news gathering process, starting with deciding which stories to pursue and which journalists should pursue them. 

«Cognitive biases like confirmation bias can help us save time and energy when our initial hypotheses are correct, but they can also create catastrophic mistakes,» Morewedge adds. «Learning to understand, spot and correct them — especially when the stakes are high — is a valuable skill for all journalists.»   

If you need help searching for research on a particular topic or tips on covering a specific issue, please reach out. We love hearing from readers and we’re always looking for ways to help you do your job better.

Take care,

Denise-Marie Ordway, managing editor of The Journalist’s Resource


Amid a Series of Mass Shootings in the U.S., Gun Policy Remains Deeply Divisive

Key facts about Americans and guns

What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.

What we know about the increase in U.S. murders in 2020


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