Litigation, Reputation, and Vilification: How Gun Activists Cannot Lose for Winning

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Publication Date


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Western Political Science Association


Politics and Government


Based on a purposive sample of 773 articles in U. S. newspapers 1985-2005, we find that even as lawsuits against firearms manufacturers have failed in courtrooms they have tended to succeed in print. Content analyses reveal how frames and characterizations that predominate in newspapers redound against manufacturers and contradict themes on which corporate defendants have relied. We distinguish articles that were mostly about specific suits from articles not at all about specific suits to reveal that coverage of specific suits disadvantages manufacturers most but even articles that raise no specific suits disparage manufacturers. We complete the paper with a narrative of how firearms activists have been surprised by our results. They dwelled on losing battles and missed the battles that they have been winning.