Nate Silver | News

Nate Silver: Pro-Gun Side Winning War Of Words


In the wake of yesterday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, a tragedy most of us are still trying to process, statistician Nate Silver decided to look at the use of the terms "gun control," "second amendment," "gun violence" and "gun rights" in news stories over the past three decades.

In 1993 and 1994, when Congress was debating a ban on assault weapons, the phrase “gun control” was used about three times per 1,000 news articles. Use of the term was even higher after the mass shootings in Columbine, Colo., peaking at 3.7 instances per 1,000 articles in 1999. It reached a low point in 2010, when the term “gun control” was used 0.3 times per 1,000 articles — less than one-tenth as often as in the year after the Columbine shootings.

Averaging the frequency of usage over a five-year period reduces the effect of these news-driven fluctuations and reveals a reasonably clear long-term trend. In recent years, the term “gun control” has been used only about half as often as it was in the 1980s and about one-quarter as often as in the 1990s and early 2000s. [See below]


The term “Second Amendment” was rarely employed in the 1980s, but it has become much more commonplace since then. (Since 2008, the term “Second Amendment” has been used more often than “gun control.”) A related phrase, “gun rights,” has also come into more common usage.

He concludes that the language game has helped shape the debate: "The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic."

Last April, after Trayvon Martin's shooting, Jill Lepore at The New Yorker looked at how the right-wing in the mid-late 20th Century successfully turned the "second amendment" into a political bargaining chip, forever altering the gun control debate in this country.

"The assertion that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to own and carry a gun for self-defense, rather than the people’s right to form militias for the common defense, first became a feature of American political and legal discourse in the wake of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and only gained prominence in the nineteen-seventies," she wrote.


Feed This post's comment feed


  1. More important, gun rights advocates won the battle in the Supreme Court over the *meaning* of the 2d Amendment. As of 2008, the right to bear arms is definitively an individual right, not a collective right vested in communities or militias.

    Posted by: BABH | Dec 15, 2012 12:35:31 PM

  2. (Or rather, as of 2010. Heller in 2008 set the Federal precedent, McDonald in 2010 applied it to the States.)

    Posted by: BABH | Dec 15, 2012 12:38:27 PM

  3. I guess this would be an Ari question, but does the 2nd Amendment preclude any regulation of guns? If abortion can be regulated, why not guns?

    Posted by: Toader | Dec 15, 2012 2:24:55 PM

  4. No celebrity is going to sound off on gun laws for awhile atleast because of what happened to Rosie O'Donnell when she did. She became a target of the gun lobby, was attacked unmercifully, and bombarded with death threats. You can see the decline in support for tougher gun laws began with the election of George W. Bush.

    Posted by: Billy Crytical | Dec 15, 2012 2:30:08 PM

  5. The NRA is a terrorist group, aided and abetted by Antonin Scalia.

    Posted by: Murderers | Dec 15, 2012 2:38:34 PM

  6. Guns, god and greed - welcome to the USA! Yee-haw!

    Posted by: Betty Treacle | Dec 15, 2012 3:07:02 PM


    Now I want that t-shirt

    Posted by: Felix | Dec 15, 2012 5:19:32 PM

  8. Toader: No, the 2d Amendment is not absolute. Among other things, there can be laws against gun ownership by felons or the mentally ill. Laws against concealed-carry are OK. Laws about guns in sensitive places like courthouses, schools, and airports are OK.

    And it only covers weapons that are "in common use" for "lawful purposes" (essentially target shooting, hunting, and self-defense) which is why you're not allowed to own heavy artillery or nuclear warheads.

    Posted by: BABH | Dec 15, 2012 6:03:52 PM

  9. Who will make it a goal to repeal the 2nd Amendment?

    This is possible.

    Posted by: Randy | Dec 15, 2012 11:38:03 PM

  10. what do the Federalist papers have to say about the 2nd amendment, if anything?

    Posted by: gwrightg | Dec 16, 2012 2:03:39 AM

  11. This OBSESSION with guns and gun control is masking the other equally important aspects of why these young men [it's mostly young men] do these things.

    *The Pharmaceutical Industry has major blood on it's hands. The executives , sales reps, scientists, investors, of course don't give a phuk because they're making uber $.

    *Our society [and other similar societies around the world] are fragmenting at a rapid clip. More and more unstable people and even stable ones are feeling greater isolation and marginalization. Our political systems and status quo in general are failing for the majority of people. Our economies are in what appears to be permanent decline or at best extended stagnation, leaving many without hope for a better future.

    *Our society and others is INUNDATED with violence and violent imagery in popular entertainment, movies, TV, music, video games, advertising/marketing, etc., BIG $ is made from this glorification and/or use of violence and violent themes and imagery. Video games deserve special consideration because they're inter-active unlike the other media I mentioned. Anyone notice how good many of these shooters today are at targeting their victims? Extensive and very realistic practice through video games.

    But yeah, just keep on concentrating on the evil guns. Much easier and it fits an overall agenda/narrative.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 16, 2012 10:13:25 AM

  12. winning the war of words but losing the war on keeping young people safe and alive.

    worth it?

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 16, 2012 1:39:31 PM

  13. Owning a nuclear bomb would not be as much fun as it sounds.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2012 7:52:34 PM

  14. @RATBASTARD: Very good points. It's not just the guns that are the problem. American society and its pathological obsession with violence is the problem. We are a sick society.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Dec 17, 2012 12:08:48 AM

Post a comment


« «'Dallas Morning News' Endorses Marriage Equality« «