Trigger Warning: Gun Guidelines for the Media

“Trigger Warning: Gun Guidelines for the Media” won the Silver Anthem Awards!

America has more guns than people; more homicides, suicides, and unintentional deaths by firearm than any of its high income peer countries by orders of magnitude. The number one cause of death for children and teens in America is gun violence.

So it makes sense that guns seem to be everywhere in our media, too. From late night news to Saturday morning cartoons, cop shows to comedies — guns are ubiquitous on our screens. But film and television have the power to shape public perception, normalize habits, and even effect policy, which is why the way we talk about and depict guns and gun violence matters so much.

The data on the following pages represent a snapshot in time of trends over the past 20 years, as well as a warning of where those trends are headed without conscientious action. As a storyteller, you are in a unique position to change the narrative, reset the bar, and provide representation of safe, acceptable behavior when it comes to firearms. Your voice and talents are needed now more than ever.

Your stories matter.

Hollywood, Health & Society created a guideline on how creatives can model safe gun storage behavior on screen. Here are some highlights below:


Image courtesy of Everytown
  • Guns are the #1 cause of death for children and teens in America.
  • 30 million children in the US live in households with firearms and 4.6 million live in a home with at least one loaded and unlocked gun.
  • Over half of all gun owners do not lock all of their firearms securely.
  • Access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by suicide by 300%.
  • Children’s programming that features guns has been proven to make children more likely to want to play with guns. There’s no excuse to put a gun in a show for children.
  • More than 338,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine.


Image courtesy of Council on Foreign Relations
  • Guns make us safer – American citizens own four times the amount of guns as the next highly developed country and suffer four times the amount of gun homicides.
  • Good guy with a gun – American states that allow concealed charry have far higher rates of gun homicide than those that do not.
  • Gun violence is a mental health issue – Only 3-5% of gun-related deaths are caused by people with diagnosed mental illness. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims than the general population.


Image courtesy of Manhattan Institute
  • Unarmed Black civilians are 5 times as likely to be shot by police as unarmed white civilians.
  • A Black unarmed person is just as likely to be shot by police as a white person who is armed.


Image courtesy of Everytown
  • 1 in 3 episodes of popular television portrays at least one character discharging a firearm.
  • Every police procedural owes its DNA to Dragnet, a show so invested in the valorization of the police that the notoriously racist LAPD Chief William Parker got final approval on every script.
    • The mythologizing of “good guy cops” has the effect of making the public more likely to believe police even when they’re lying and less likely to believe victims of police abuse.


Image courtesy of Everytown
  • Mass shootings are 6 times as likely to make the news than any other kind of gun related death.
  • 1 in 4 Americans believe mass shootings to be the greatest gun violence threat facing their communities even though suicides account for the majority of gun deaths in the US.
  • Of the 45,222 people killed by gun violence in 2020, mass shootings accounted for just 1% of all gun deaths.
  • And yet, 95% of American public K-12 schools have implemented active shooter drills and at least 40 states have mandated them, even though active shooter drills have been shown to cause traumatic depression, stress, and anxiety in children offering no evidence that they prevent mass shootings or minimize their impact.


Image courtesy of Everytown
  • Every 16 hours, a woman is shot dead by her current or former partner.
  • Women in the US are 28 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than women in peer nations.
  • Black women are 2x more likely to be shot by an intimate partner as white women.
  • Black women between the ages of 18 and 34 are 3x more likely to be shot and killed by an intimate partner than are white women in the same age group.
  • Many storylines about intimate partner violence feature a victim buying a gun to protect themselves, but women who purchase a gun die by firearm homicide at twice the rate of women who do not.