Background Firearm-related violence continues to impose a heavy burden of death and disability in the United States, which remains the largest market for civilian-owned firearms in the world. Given the strong evidence base on the association between firearm availability and firearm related harm, it has been argued that the firearm industry, which produces and markets firearms predominantly intended for civilian use, should be considered a commercial determinant of health, like the tobacco industry. However, there has been limited research on how its practices and strategies align with what is known about other harmful product industries.
This study analysed how the firearm industry frames gun-related harm and violence to the public, and how it frames what policy responses it suggests should be accepted as legitimate.
Methods The research analysed the discursive strategies adopted by seven of the largest firearm manufacturers and organisations funded by the firearm industry in the US. Two authors independently extracted textual material from web articles, press releases, annual reports and shareholder communications, published during 1st April 2019 to 1st April 2020 (396 documents). Thematic coding was guided by the literature on the commercial determinants of health and consensus reached through open discussion with a third author. Both deductive and inductive coding was adopted. The coded data was analysed to identify framing and rhetorical strategies, using NVivo (QSR international, 2020).
Results Faced with increasing public discourse, policy debates and legal challenges relating to firearm violence, the firearm industry and associated organisations frames the evidence and potential solutions in a way that promotes preferred outcomes that limit impact on business. 5 main frames were identified: firearms as protective of health; firearms as an issue of personal responsibility; regulation as harmful and counterproductive, guns embodying the “American” way of life; and disputing of evidence on harms and regulation.
Conclusion This innovative study identified framing strategies employed by the firearm industry to reinforce its rhetoric and interests. These broadly resemble strategies employed by other harmful product industries, including a greater focus on framing gun ownership as a human right and as protective against dystopian futures, and seeking to amplify the perceived threat of violence (e.g. sexual, criminal, state). Limitations of this study include the relatively short timeframe, and the focus on publicly available documentation only. Future studies could analyse trends over time, include a range of contexts and documentation (including social media communications), and assess the impact on specific policies.
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