Melissa K. Merry, "Warped Narratives: Distortion in the Framing of Gun Policy" (U Michigan Press, 2020)


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If gun violence kills so many Americans, why don’t we see more effective solutions? How much does the way we frame an issue impact how we feel about it? How often are hot button issues deeply polarized due to the biased or intentionally manipulated ways they are presented to the public? In Warped Narratives: Distortion in the Framing of Gun Policy (University of Michigan Press, 2020), Melissa K. Merry (Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Louisville) applies these questions to gun policy highlighting the ways both sides warp the gun policy narrative to fit and further their separate agendas. Noticing the way gun control advocates highlight white victims’ of mass shootings, while gun rights advocates stress self-defense rights, Merry concludes this type of framing serves to further polarize the public leaving policy makers less able to form coalitions and agree to compromise. In this way, warping has consequences for both policy and politics.

Employing a social science lens and employing three distinct theoretical frameworks, Merry seeks to understand how and why actors, specifically interest groups, distort narratives. By analyzing “67,000 communications by 15 national gun policy groups between 2000 and 2017 collected from blogs, emails, Facebook posts, and press releases” Merry documents the ways both sides over emphasize and omit crucial aspects of the gun policy debate, ironically resulting in negative consequences and failure for both sides. She combines three powerful theoretical lenses – Narrative Policy Framework, Social Construction of Target Populations, and Critical Race Theory – to reveal the structure and strategy of narratives of gun rights and safety. Both sides focus on atypical characters and settings – and both manipulate racial stereotypes.

Warped Narratives: Distortion in the Framing of Gun Policy is a systematic analysis of the gun policy debate providing important groundwork for understanding how specific actors distort and polarize public debate as well as a reflection on the greater implications this has for the future of public policy.

Bernadette Crehan assisted with this podcast.

Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013) and, most recently, “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” in the Journal of Politics (August 2020).

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