Jonathon Schuldt, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell University whose research focuses on how people make political decisions based on information from the media, comments the subtle use of language in the ongoing national debate on gun “control” or “safety” legislation.
“The word ‘tax’ is perhaps the poster child for a negative frame in politics – after all, who likes to pay taxes? A classic study showed that the public expresses less support for a spending initiative on the poor when it is framed in terms of a tax as opposed to an opportunity for advancement. And, of course, each side in the debate over abortion is ‘pro’ something (life or choice), which is purposeful and strategic branding – what kind of monster would be anti-life or anti-choice?
“The gun debate won't be immune to these tendencies, where it seems that those who favor tougher restrictions are realizing that the word ‘control’ may undermine their cause.
“In a nation where freedom is among the deepest ideals, control is almost a dirty word, and it is much easier to justify why one is against control than it is to justify why one is against safety. And so, as we so often see in other partisan debates, we can expect a systematic bias in word choice by actors on different sides of the debate. Those who are for tougher gun restrictions should favor the ‘gun safety’ frame, which may be especially powerful in the wake of the recent tragedies. Those who are against tougher gun restrictions should favor the ‘gun control’ frame.”
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