DENVER — From Western movies to true crime series, firearms have been a normal part of American entertainment culture for many decades.
However, a group of young people is trying to change that. They’re called Project Unloaded and they have spent years looking into the use of guns on television.
The group watched more than 150 hours of prime-time content and found that in 2022 about 29% of shows featured a firearm. However, that number went down to just 13% in 2023 during the writers' strike.
“We found that shows shifted to a lot more unscripted content because of course the writers weren't there to script many of the shows and this didn't have an effect on the ratings of the shows,” said Karly Scholz, who serves on the group’s youth council.
The group also compared viewership ratings between those time periods in 2022 and 2023 and concluded that viewers still tuned in regardless of the use of guns.
“Guns aren't the ultimate plot device that makes any show a hit, Scholz said. “We hope that I think networks can take a lesson from that to kind of see that as an invitation to consider how their portrayal of guns in the media is really making an impact in our culture.”
The study did not look at the real-world implications of guns being featured on television and whether they translate to more violence, however Scholz says the study’s focus was to better understand the portrayal of firearms on television versus how and when they are actually used.
“(On television) they are really shown with guns for protection and for personal protection when in reality we know that more guns in a household increases the chance of domestic violence,” Scholz said.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 56% of Americans support stricter gun laws. At the same time, 64% believe guns make homes safer.
However, a study published in the National Library of Medicine` last year found that people who lived in homes with a handgun were twice as likely to die from a homicide and another from the Annals of Internal Medicine found they were also three times more likely to die by suicide than those without a handgun in the home.
“I think young people have the potential to really push for this change, even if they're not the ones writing the scripts or up high in media industry. I think they have some potential to really speak to what they look like and what they're looking to see both as consumers and in their daily lives,” she said.
Scholz hopes this report will encourage television studios to reconsider the use and portrayal of guns and ask whether they're really necessary for the show's plot.