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Gun Stories: How Evidence Shapes Firearm

Policy in the United States

University of Massachusetts Lowell


Oregon State University


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This article examines the role of evidence in the National Rifle Asso-
ciation and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violences firearm
policy debate proximate to the December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook
school shooting. The groups member-directed policy narratives are
operationalized with The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), and
new categories of evidence for the framework are developed. Analysis
of 2,535 paragraphs of member newsletters indicates the groups dis-
play different patterns of narrative components. Evidence is associat-
ed with narrative elements, and that narrative strategy has a
significant, but mixed relationship with evidence. Most importantly,
findings indicate that evidence frequently co-occurs with characters,
leading us to conclude that evidence has a buttressing, or supportive,
role in policy narrative closely associated with character attributions.
The findings expand the understanding of evidence in contentious pol-
icy debates and offer a new component for NPF theory.
Keywords: Gun Debate, Firearm Policy, United States, Policy Narrative,
Evidence, National Rifle Association, NRA, Gun Ownership, Security,
Brady Campaign, Narrative Policy Framework, NPF Theory, Obama,
Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Acknowledgements: The authors wish to express their gratitude to the editors and anonymous
reviewers at Politics & Policy for their insightful suggestions. Previous versions of this work
were presented at the Midwest Political Science Association and Association for Public Policy
Analysis and Management annual conferences. The authors also will to acknowledge the assis-
tance of Virginia Tech graduate students Chelsea Gillespie and Seunghea Jo in collecting the
narratives analyzed in this article.

Politics & Policy, Volume 44, No. 6 (2016): 1053-1088. 10.1111/polp.12187

Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
C 2016 Policy Studies Organization
1054 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

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Related Media:
Brady Campaign YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/
National Rifle Association YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/
Este artculo examina el papel de la evidencia emprica en el
debate de poltica publica entre la Asociacion Nacional de Rifles
de los Estados Unidos y la Campa~na de Brady para Prevenir la
Violencia por Armas de Fuego poco tiempo despues de los tiro-
teos del 14 de diciembre de 2012 en la escuela secundaria Sandy
Hook. La narrativa de poltica dirigida por los miembros de cada
grupo es analizada bajo el Marco Teorico de Narrativa de Poltica
(NPF por sus siglas en ingles), y nuevas categoras de evidencia
son desarrolladas para el marco teorico. Analizando 2,535 parrafos
de los boletines enviados a miembros se encuentra que cada grupo
exhibe usos diferentes en sus patrones de narrativa. La evidencia es
asociada con elementos narrativos y la estrategia de narrativa tiene
una relaci on significativa, aunque a veces mixta, con la evidencia.
Aun m as importante, los resultados muestran que la evidencia es
frecuentemente usada con personajes, llevandonos a la conclusion
que la evidencia tiene un papel de refuerzo, o apoyo, en la narrativa
poltica que se asocia de forma estrecha con los atributos de un
personaje. Estos resultados expanden el entendimiento de la eviden-
cia en debates polemicos y ofrecen un nuevo componente para el
Marco Te orico de Narrativa de Poltica.

In a January 5, 2016 speech, announcing that his administration would use

its executive power to strengthen federal background check requirements, Presi-
dent Obama mentioned the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School five times
in the 37-minute address (Obama 2016). The media took special note, as the
President was moved to tears while reflecting on the December 14, 2012 mass
murder of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut (Koren 2016).
The extremely young ages of so many of the victims of the massacre at Sandy
Hook compelled communities across the United States to ask how innocent chil-
dren could be so ruthlesslyand easilydestroyed. Four years later and in the
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1055

wake of yet another massacre at a LBGT dance club in Orlando, Florida, the
country is still struggling with the questions that the Sandy Hook shootings
brought to our attention. What could have been done to prevent it? Who or what
was to blame? What can we do to prevent it from happening again?
Both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Brady Campaign to
Prevent Gun Violence (the Brady Campaign) were horrified by the events at
Sandy Hook, but from the same tragedythe same set of empirical facts and
relationshipsthe two groups constructed radically different explanations of
the event. The NRA called for changes to laws that would allow school staff to
carry weapons into schools, claiming that the presence of armed school offi-
cials constituted a better defense against rampage shootings than other pro-
posed alternatives (NRA-ILA 2013; Rostron 2013). The Brady Campaign
called for stricter legislation including universal background checks and restric-
tions on high-capacity magazines and military-style rifles (McMorris-Santoro
2013). One group insisted that the answer to the problem was the availability of
more guns, the other insisted on restricting access to firearms. Intractable poli-
cy issues, like firearm policy (Spitzer 2016), often involve characteristics that
make policy making difficult, such as strategically divergent problem defini-
tions (Rittel and Webber 1973).
Understanding the policy process requires attention to such debates con-
cerning the severity and cause of policy problems, as well as the impacts of pro-
posed policy solutions (Sabatier 2007). Public policy scholarship has closely
examined many of the proposals advocated by both pro- and anti-gun control
groups. Past studies analyze mental health prohibitions on gun ownership
(Fisher and Lieberman 2013; Gold 2013; Metzl and MacLeish 2015), stronger
background checks (Fox and DeLateur 2014; Wilson 2007), increasing security
at school buildings (Hill 2013), legislative limits on firearm access (Jones and
Stone 2015), and banning assault weapons (Fox and DeLateur 2014). In addi-
tion, scholars have analyzed public support for firearm regulation (Barry et al.
2013, 2015; Smith 2002; Vernick and Stevenson 2015). However, these differ-
ences in policy preferences and proposals among the public pro- and anti-gun
control groups are only part of the story.
To more fully tell the story concerning how firearm advocacy groups
debate in the policy process, scholars must investigate how these groups com-
municate a convincing explanation of why the situation exists and who is
responsible for creating or perpetuating the undesirable phenomenon. This
attribution of causality turns debates over firearm policy issues into a contest
that is as much a war of values as it is a debate concerning information (Wilson
2007, 13). One of the ways policy actors strategically communicate both values
and information, and plausible causes is through policy narratives (Jones and
McBeth 2010). While many posit the important role of narrative in strategic
communications (see e.g., Bruner 1985; Lyotard 1984; Roe 1994), few have test-
ed their conjectures scientifically (see e.g., McBeth, Shanahan, and Jones 2005;
Merry 2015). The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) was developed to meet
1056 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

this scientific need and is applied here to add empirical data on the use of evi-
dence in competing policy narratives within the firearm policy debate.
This research begins by introducing the NPF. We then turn to the use of
evidence within the study of public policy, paying particular attention to situat-
ing the concept of evidence within the NPF. Afterward, we review our NRA
and Brady Campaign case selection. We then describe the research design,
data, and methods. Finally, we provide an analysis of our findings indicating
the NRA and Brady Campaign display statistically different patterns in their
use of narrative components that evidence is associated with the use of narra-
tive elements, and that narrative strategy has a significant, but mixed relation-
ship with evidence.

The Narrative Policy Framework, Evidence, and Public Policy

The NPF was developed to empirically assess the role of policy narratives
in the policy process (McBeth 2014). To make policy narratives amenable to
empirical observation, the NPF disaggregates policy narratives into three com-
ponents: narrative elements, narrative strategies, and belief systems (Jones,
McBeth, and Shanahan 2014; McBeth, Jones, and Shanahan 2014). The first
component identifies four structural elements generalizable across policy nar-
ratives: setting, character, plot, and moral of the story (see e.g., Jones and
McBeth 2010). The setting is the context in which the policy story takes place
and may include a wide range of relativity fixed factors such as legal rules,
demographics, geography, and agreed upon scientific findings. Characters
include heroes, villains, and victims. Heroes indicate preferred policy actors
cast as a protagonist, savior, or champion of the correct policy stance. Vil-
lains indicate opposed policy actors, who deserve blame for their actions or
policy stances. Villains and heroes are generally represented as taking opposite
sides of a policy issue. Victims are characters who are hurt, frequently by vil-
lains, and may be helped by heroes. Plots tie these narrative components
together. The moral of the story is the policy solution promoted by the policy
narrative (McBeth, Jones, and Shanahan 2014).
The second component of a policy narrative is the narrative strategy
employed within policy narratives by policy actors. Narrative strategies refer to
policy actors construction of policy narratives to persuade and/or manipulate
an audience. While there are likely many possible policy narrative strategies, to
date the NPF has specified three common types of narrative strategies: (i)
expansion or maintenance of the scope of conflict, (ii) the ascription of causal
mechanisms (who or what is to blame), and (iii) the devil/angel shift (the ampli-
fication of villain and hero roles linked to coalitions) (for an overview of NPF
strategies, see McBeth, Jones, and Shanahan 2014). The third component of
policy narratives outlined by the NPF is the belief systems of policy actors,
which function as shared understandings of the world. The central concern
in this study is exploring the interface between the structural elements
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1057

(e.g., heroes, victims, and villains), policy narrative strategy (specifically the
devil shift), and the role of evidence therein. The next sections address what we
argue is an underspecified element of the NPF: evidence.

Evidence in Public Policy Scholarship

To situate evidence within the discipline of public policy, we briefly explore

two bodies of literature that have paid considerable attention to the concept:
the utilization literature and the wider theoretical work on the policy process
itself. In the next two sections, we briefly summarize salient findings from each.

Evidence and Utilization

Use of evidence, science, or expert-based information in policy has received
considerable attention in the utilization literature and to cover this literature in
its entirety would require more space than an academic articles allows.1 Conse-
quently, we lean on the classification scheme created by Young and others
(2002) (but see also Stevens 2007) to demarcate the role of research in public
policy as opposed to covering individual utilization studies to frame our discus-
sion of this literature. Young and others (2002) declare five basic models of uti-
lization in the policy process: (i) the knowledge-driven model, (ii) the problem-
solving model, (iii) the interactive model, (iv) the political/tactical model, and
(v) the enlightenment model. While this scheme is slightly dated, utilization
studies can be more or less categorized into one of these categories. And while
categorizations might not be exactly mutually exclusive, understanding the uti-
lization literature through these five categorical heuristics effectively fulfills the
purposes of this brief review.
According to Young and others (2002) the knowledge-driven model assumes
evidence drives policy in a direct manner. As research establishes new findings,
new policy follows. The problem-solving model assumes that policy drives
research. Research in this model is undertaken to inform policy issues and pri-
orities, not necessarily to support already existing policy. The interactive model
portrays research and policy as interactive, positing a complex relationship
between researchers and policy makers, where it is impossible to identify who
influences whom. In this model, research and policy agendas are shaped within
policy communities of diverse actors. Researcher specialization produces new
solutions, allowing researchers to become influential. The political/tactical

Much of the utilization literature developed in response to or in accordance with the popularity
of the concepts of evidenced-based management and policy, and criticism inevitably arose of the
models. Scholars accused proponents of evidence-based policy making of not producing outcomes
(Boaz, Fitzpatrick, and Shaw 2008) or progress (Mulgan 2005; Sheldon 2005) whose improve-
ments were empirically established. Additionally, there has been concern and empirical evidence
suggesting (Cameron et al. 2011) that evidenced-based policy models are largely producing policy-
based evidence.
1058 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

model posits actors employing evidence heresthetically (Stevens 2007), whereby

actors strategically use evidence to win a competition with political opponents.
For this model, the research agenda is also politically driven, and often
commissioned to establish a political point rather than in pursuit of knowledge.
The enlightenment model sees research as standing apart from policy affecting
it indirectly by illuminating the policy landscape (Stevens 2007; Weiss 1977;
Young et al. 2002). As this heuristic classification of the utilization literature
shows, the treatment of evidence in this literature appreciates that variable
causal directions, mediating factors, interactive relationships, political strategy,
and other significant variables are involved in the evidence/policy relationship,
rendering a seemingly simple concept entangled and unclear.

Evidence and the Policy Process

The policy process literature deals with the relationship between evidence
and policy more holistically than the majority of utilization studies by situating
evidence among other important factors in the broader process of policy
making. Drawing on Weibles (2008) examination of expert-based information
in policy process theories, we review four major theories of the policy process
and the posited relationship between evidence and public policy.
According to Weible (2008), there are three important implications regard-
ing evidence in Kingdons (2003, 617) multiple streams theory: first, policy
actors use science to identify problems and evaluate solutions; second, a skillful
policy entrepreneur must be present in order for science to be effective; and
third, entrepreneurs use science for political gain. In addition, Weible (2008,
619) identifies the long-term learning effects that science has on government in
Kingdons theory and the political utility for the policy entrepreneurs goal of
tying of policy ideas to problems.
Weible (2008) identifies four implications associated with evidence for
punctuated equilibrium theory (see e.g., Baumgartner and Jones 1993): first,
the causal driver in the theory is the pace with which actors process expert-
based information; second, incommensurate information processes are
responsible for the creation, maintenance, destruction, or alteration of policy
images; third, science affects the expansion of conflict and the mobilization of
resources; fourth, science contributes to all kinds of policy change. Weible
(2008, 620) identifies a learning use of evidence in punctuated equilibrium
theory in its description of how expert-based information alters learning by
individuals reluctant to accept contradictory information, and their tendency
to overcompensate for this reluctance with bursts of accepting of new informa-
tion. This behavior contributes to policy punctuations. A political use of evi-
dence is demonstrated in the creation, alteration, and destruction of policy
Weible (2008, 618-20) identifies three implications for science in social con-
struction and policy design theory (see e.g., Ingram, Schneider, and deLeon
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1059

2014): first, science may only be understood to the extent that the scientific
community is unified; second, scientific information may only be understood
to the extent that the policy community is unified; third, expert-based informa-
tion may provide risks and opportunities to powerful groups. He identifies the
use of evidence by policy makers to legitimate theory decisions, selectively or
intentionally distort information, or to manipulate policy images, as the politi-
cal use of evidence. In addition, he says the social construction theory would
likely predict an instrumental use of evidence when scientific and policy com-
munities are unified.
Finally, regarding the Advocacy Coalition Framework (see e.g., Jenkins-
Smith et al. 2014), Weible (2008, 620) finds two implications for evidence in
policy: first, expert-based information is valuable to coalitions who use it to
recruit allies and to fight opponents; second, policy-oriented learning is more
likely to occur within one coalition. He identifies the learning use of evidence
as the basis for the theorys concept of policy-oriented learning, and a path for
belief and policy change. Political use of evidence is apparent in coalition
behavior when attempting to mobilize allies or argue with opponents. He pre-
dicts instrumental use of evidence is most likely to occur in professional
forums, where coalitions work with scientists. In the course of reviewing several
major policy process theories we find that the role for evidence in the policy
process literature is predominantly cast in terms of scientific information.
However, as the NPF seeks to analyze the structure and content of policy nar-
ratives and the impact they may have on decision making, a broader under-
standing of evidence needs to be devised. The next section will highlight the
use of evidence in existing NPF studies and make a case for the need for a
more formal enunciation of the place for evidence within the framework.

Evidence and the NPF

While the NPF also lacks a clear understanding of the role of evidence and
its relationship to policy narratives, past applications of the framework have
suggested a strategic role. NPF studies have regularly used evidence in research
designs and models, but these studies have given little attention to elaborating
its role within the policy narrative or the policy process. For example, NPF
studies have used evidence to measure policy actor beliefs (McBeth, Shanahan,
and Jones 2005; McBeth et al. 2010; Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth 2011;
Shanahan et al. 2008; see also Shanahan and McBeth 2010), policy solutions
(Shanahan et al. 2008), and as a control for coalitional policy learning
(McBeth et al. 2007). Reviewing the use of evidence in existing NPF studies, we
find three general but only tacitly related trends. First, evidence, as a concept,
appears in many NPF studies, but usually as a proxy for other variables.
Second, like the utilization literature, NPF studies find that sometimes evi-
dence drives policy and sometimes it doesnt. Third, at the micro-level, NPF
1060 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

studies find that in certain contexts, policy narratives with evidence are more
persuasive than those without.
The persuasive characteristic of evidence on individuals makes it a good
candidate for strategic use, as Weible (2008) suggests; however, previous NPF
studies have found mixed results, even in adversarial policy arenas. For
instance, McBeth and Shanahan (2004) address science and evidence in their
study on environmental policy in Yellowstone National Park, and observe that
scientific solutions only infrequently resolve policy conflict. In addition, while
Radaelli, Dunlop, and Fritsch (2013) find that evidence is used to support poli-
cy solutions in European Union Impact Assessments, Shanahan and others
(2008) did not find that evidence was used to support policy solutions in media
coverage of Yellowstone snowmobile activity. Nor did Shanahan and others
(2013) find that evidence was effectively deployed to support policy solutions
in competing Cape Cod wind farm policy narratives. At the individual micro-
level, NPF studies have found policy narratives that contain evidence more per-
suasive than other forms of communication (see e.g., Clemons, McBeth, and
Kusko 2012; Jones 2014b; Veselkova 2014).
Evidence and persuasion, however, are difficult concepts to capture well
when operationalized. Audiences, the nature of the policy arena, and the type
of evidence used are all likely to play an important role in determining narra-
tive persuasiveness (McBeth et al. 2007). Even what counts as evidence can
vary by policy actor and their intended audience (see e.g., McBeth et al. 2010;
Radaelli, Dunlop, and Fritsch 2013; Shanahan, McBeth, and Hathaway 2011;
Shanahan et al. 2013; see also Veselkova 2014). Radaelli, Dunlop, and Fritsch
(2013), aptly summarize the multi-dimensionality of evidence used in policy
narratives when they observe that it is used to support solutions, legitimate
action, and give context to policy.
Given the difficulty in articulating a single encapsulating operationaliza-
tion of evidence, its unsettled role in the utilization and NPF literatures, and
the concurrent suggestion of its strategic role in policy debates by the process,
utilization, and NPF-specific literatures, our review indicates that an extensive
and broad conceptual approach to understanding evidence is needed. We argue
that a broad understanding is necessary to encompass the variety of phenome-
na leveraged as evidence within policy narratives, and to help account for its
many potential strategic uses. Further drawing on the policy process literature,
whose models emphasize the role of strategy and values in the policy process,
our model advances the NPFs study of the use of evidence in policy narratives
by identifying five distinct types: (1) scientific studies, (2) statistics, (3) polls, (4)
ipso dictum, and (5) laws or legal rulings that are described in further detail
below (see Appendix for a complete definition of the codes used in this
research). The development of the five types of evidence was informed by both
a deductive approach that leveraged concepts encountered in the previous liter-
ature review and an inductive approach that identified emergent concepts in
our initial rounds of our content analysis.
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1061

Scientific Studies
Aaron Wildavsky (1995, 5) emphasized the importance of the association
between science and evidence, stating, no mention is made of witchcraft as a
rationale for regulation, but rather obeisance is made to science whether or not it
is what matters. Previous NPF research affirms this observation as it illuminates
the presence and absence of science (see e.g., McBeth et al. 2007; Shanahan et al.
2013) and measures types of scientific references, such as technological science
and studies of biodiversity (see e.g., McBeth et al. 2010; McBeth, Shanahan, and
Jones 2005; Shanahan and McBeth 2010; Shanahan et al. 2008), in policy narra-
tives. Thus scientific studies were included from the outset of the project and
operationalized as any citation, mention, or reference to a scientific study. In
practice, coded references to scientific evidence include both general references
to science as well as instances where the description of the evidence indicated it
was of a scientific nature (e.g., study and research).

Statistics was another evidentiary category that was commonly addressed
in our literature review and thus included in our initial coding approach. The
emphasis on the importance of efforts to enumerate phenomena to define a
policy problem is well documented. For instance, in Policy Paradox, Stone
(2002) highlights the frequency with which numbers are used to describe policy
issues and the near infinite number of ways they may be employed. Stone
makes a compelling case that numbers are used strategically in policy commu-
nications to help construct policy realities. In addition, previous scholarship on
gun policy emphasizes the strategic use of statistics in policy debates (Wilson
2007, 47). Thus, following Stone (2002) and Wilson (2007), this study under-
stands statistics as a specific type of evidenceexclusive of numbers associated
with a scientific study or a public opinion pollwe consider the use of any
number that is not connected to a scientific study or public opinion poll to be
an instance whereby the advocacy group was employing statistical evidence.2

Public Opinion Polls

This study isolates public opinion polls as separate from statistics due to
the special attention public opinion receives in the policy process and firearms
policy literatures. For example, Jones and Jenkins-Smith (2009) argue the role
of public opinion in policy subsystems has been long underspecified. They
describe public opinion as affecting policy subsystems in broad waves that
touch multiple networked policy subsystems sharing policy considerations. The

To illustrate, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (2011a, 5) statement that the federal
ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire despite support from over 70 percent of Ameri-
cans was coded as evidence in the form of a public opinion poll, while their claim that Over
1,000 guns were sold to individuals on the terrorist watch list from February 2004 through Decem-
ber 2010 was coded statistics.
1062 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

NPF builds upon this treatment of public opinion by developing several

hypotheses dealing with opinion both internal and external to policy subsys-
tems (Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth 2011). In addition, numerous studies have
concerned themselves with measuring public opinion associated with specific
policy instruments relating to gun control (see Barry et al. 2013, 2015; Drier
2013). Owing to the importance placed on public opinion by the extant litera-
ture the model presented here considers any citation of a public opinion poll as

Laws and Legal Rulings

Numerous narratives from both groups referred to existing laws and also
legal decisions to lend support to their approach to firearms policy. The NRA
often appealed to two Supreme Court cases, District of Columbia versus Heller
554 U.S 570 (2008) and Chicago versus McDonald 561 U.S. 742 (2010) as well as
the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution as reasons that their
preferred policy solutions of reducing regulation of firearms should be viewed as
the proper course of action. Given that the construction and design of public
policy (and the laws therein) has been demonstrated to communicate important
beliefs and strategies that oftentimes produce cascading effects (see e.g., Farns-
worth, Guzior, and Malani 2013; Schneider and Ingram 1997; Sidney 2001), we
operationalize any reference, mention, or citation of a law or legal ruling as evi-
dence. This reasoning is supported by legal scholars who argue that decision-
makers rely on legal precedent to help them make decisions (see e.g., Caldeira

Ipso Dictum
Advocacy groups may attempt to expand or maintain the scope of their
policy issue (see e.g., Baumgartner and Jones 2002; Schattschneider 1960) to
enlist support from new venues or the disinterested public by enlisting the
prestige of a celebrity or noted cultural figure (see e.g., Dente 2014; Marsh,
t Hart, and Tindall 2010; Wheeler 2013). This tactic may influence support
for an advocacy group within the noted figures audience, by creating an
association between the group and the figure. We term this category of evi-
dence ipso dictum, after the Latin used to denote the fallacious form of argu-
mentation known as the appeal to authority and count any appeal to an
individual as an authority owing to their fame, position, or title as a piece of
evidence. The union of celebrity and politics is appropriate to our advocacy
groups (see Maratea 2015) especially given the historical activity in the poli-
cy arena of such individuals as James Brady and Charlton Heston, two indi-
viduals who translated their celebrity into policy advocacy in the firearm
policy arena.
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1063

The Case: NRA and the Brady Campaign and Firearm Policy in the United

The NRA and the Brady Campaign are prominent firearms policy advo-
cacy groups in the United States known for their ability to marshal public
support and effect policy change. The selection of the two groups was set-
tled on for two major reasons. First was the fact that during the year of the
Newtown shooting, the Brady Campaign was the largest spender promoting
gun control at that time spending $40,000 lobbying in favor of gun control
(Open Secrets 2016a). Similarly, the NRA was the highest spending interest
group for gun rights in 2012, dedicating $2,980,000 to lobbying efforts
(Open Secrets 2016b). These spending patterns, in addition to general noto-
riety in the literature (see Lytton 2006; Wilson 2007), established the NRA
and the Brady Campaign as the preeminent advocacy groups on both sides
of the issue. The second reason that the NRA and Brady Campaign were
selected for the study was the requirement that each group had produced a
sizeable number of policy narratives that fell within the time period span-
ning August 2010 to March 2013. This led to the identification of the Brady
Campaigns Legal Action and the NRAs American Rifleman because both
publications contained a sizeable number of policy narratives, and were
published frequently enough within the desired time period to provide
enough policy narratives to give sufficient statistical power to a document
level analysis.
Though both the NRA and the Brady Campaign are of similar promi-
nence, they arose in radically different ways. Civil War veterans, Colonel Wil-
liam C. Church, and Captain George W. Wingate formed the NRA in 1871 to
promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis (Carter 2002,
434). The organization is notable for its rapid growth in membership. In 1921,
the NRA had only 3,500 members; by 2000, it claimed almost four million.
Despite its earlier support for some gun control legislation in the 1930s and
1940s, since the late 1970s the NRA has been focused on opposing firearm reg-
ulations (Carter 2002). The Brady Campaign is a younger organization with a
smaller base of a little over 600,000 active supporters (Maratea 2015, 147). The
organization was founded in 1974 as the National Council to Control Hand-
guns and was renamed Handgun Control, Incorporated in 1980. The landmark
Brady Bill was passed in 1993 with the support of the group after a seven-year
battle in Congress (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2013). In 2001
the group took the name Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in honor
of James and Sarah Brady (Crooker 2003, 106). James Brady, former Press
Secretary, was shot during a 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan
(Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2014). These groups present partic-
ularly interesting case study selections for investigating the role of evidence in
competing policy narratives given their vastly different origins and competing
1064 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016


To investigate the role of evidence in the NRAs and Brady Campaigns

competing firearm policy narratives a content analysis was employed as a
means of identifying NPF policy narrative elements and the evidence mar-
shaled by each group. As in previous NPF applications (see e.g., McBeth, Sha-
nahan, and Jones 2005; Shanahan, McBeth, and Hathaway 2011; Shanahan
et al. 2013), this study relies on documents created for public consumption and
content analyzes only those documents that contain a policy stance or a judg-
ment on a policy-related behavior and at least one character (Shanahan et al.
2013, 457). However, in contrast to previous NPF studies, this work examines
aims to explore what we term internal policy narratives or those policy narra-
tives that are aimed at an advocacy groups own membership. The reason for
exploring these narratives in conjunction with evidence is due to the fact that
the readers of these narratives are much more likely to already subscribe to the
viewpoint of the interest group in question. This would suggest that supplying
evidence to convince individuals of the veracity of the organization and its poli-
cy prescriptions, while not being absent entirely, is less of a motivation in the
analyzed narratives. Therefore, the authors suspect that the evidence that is
presented in these narratives works to help reinforce, or buttress, the images of
the characters, which populate the policy narratives. To capture the policy nar-
ratives, we selected NRA documents from their monthly magazine American
Rifleman, and Brady Campaign documents from their newsletter Legal Action.
Those documents from each organization, which contained a policy nar-
rative and were published between August 2010 and March 2013, were con-
tent analyzed. The selection of the 32 documents in the Brady Campaigns
Legal Action newsletter and the 162 documents from the NRAs American
Rifleman magazine captures the years and months surrounding the Decem-
ber 14, 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. After identifying and collecting the
appropriate documents, each was disaggregated into its constituent para-
graphs for analysis. This breakdown of larger texts into smaller pieces has
the advantage of generating more reliable results than those that generally
emerge when coding at the document level (GAO 1996, 3:3.6; White and
Marsh 2006, 29), while also allowing data aggregation from the paragraph
level to the document level. This approach resulted in 351 paragraphs for the
Brady Campaign, and 2,184 paragraphs for the NRA, for a total of 2,535
A codebook was created through extensive pilot testing and revision occur-
ring between March and August 2013. The final codebook included the four
traditional NPF policy structural narrative elements: hero, villain, victim, and
moral of the story (policy solution). It also contained codes for five specific
types of evidence. Coding was conducted in two phases. During the first phase,
paragraphs were coded for either the presence or absence of both narrative ele-
ments and categories of evidence. In the second phase of coding two coders
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1065

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Independent Variables

Independent Variables Mean SD Variance Range n

Hero/Ally (Brady) .58 .494 .244 0-1 351

Hero/Ally (NRA) .42 .493 .243 0-1 2,184
Villain (Brady) .51 .501 .251 0-1 351
Villain (NRA) .54 .499 .249 0-1 2,184
Victim (Brady) .31 .464 .216 0-1 351
Victim (NRA) .22 .415 .172 0-1 2,184
Moral (Brady) .43 .495 .245 0-1 351
Moral (NRA) .35 .476 .226 0-1 2,184
Science (Brady) .01 .119 .014 0-1 351
Science (NRA) .01 .085 .007 0-1 2,184
Public Opinion (Brady) 0 .053 .003 0-1 351
Public Opinion (NRA) .01 .08 .006 0-1 2,184
Legal (Brady) .49 .501 .251 0-1 351
Legal (NRA) .27 .442 .196 0-1 2,184
Statistics (Brady) .1 .301 .091 0-1 351
Statistics (NRA) .06 .24 .058 0-1 2,184
Ipso Dictum (Brady) .04 .19 .036 0-1 351
Ipso Dictum (NRA) .05 .29 .084 0-1 2,184

extracted the named heroes, villains, victims, and policy solutions from para-
graphs identified in the first phase of coding and the frequency of their use in
each paragraph. The results of our coding process are reported in Table 1.
Intercoder reliability was assessed using both percent agreement and
Krippendorffs alpha.3 As recommended by Neuendorf (2002), each coder
worked on the initial coding independently. Coding proceeded by assigning an
article to two coders that independently coded each paragraph associated with
the article. Codes were then analyzed for both percent agreement and
Krippendorffs alpha using the ReCal software utility (Freelon 2010). Follow-
ing the calculation, coders were issued a return sheet that detailed their initial
agreements and disagreements. Coders then met to reconcile identified dis-
agreements. While this approach is somewhat atypical (see Krippendorff 2004,
428; White and Marsh 2006, 30), it does offer the benefit of each and every dis-
agreement being identified, discussed, and possibly resolved. Revised codes
were then used to compute new reliability statistics (Table 2).4

Following Lombard, Snyder-Duch, and Bracken (2002, 596) we employ Krippendorffs alpha (a
conservative index accounting for level of measurement and agreement expected by chance), which
should be .70, or higher, if not, percent agreement should reach a minimum of .90 (see also
Reidsma and Carletta 2008).
The reconciliation meetings allowed for a kind of quality control, as the project required more
than 33,000 coding decisions. Second, the meetings tap the vein of post positivist thought that
runs through the NPF by placing importance on deliberations and discourse in the construction
of social meaning.
1066 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

Table 2. Intercoder Reliability: Percent Agreement and Krippendorffs Alpha, by Coded

Variable (Paragraph Level)

% Agreement Alpha (Nominal) N Cases N Decisions
Hero/Ally 94.10% .88 2,535 5,070
Villaina 94.80% .858 2,535 5,070
Victima 96.80% .937 2,535 5,070
Moral 83.40% .648 2,535 5,070
Sciencea 99.90% .954 2,535 5,070
Public Opiniona 100% 1 2,535 5,070
Legala 93.70% .854 2,535 5,070
Statisticsa 97.50% .826 2,535 5,070
Ipso Dictum 96.30% .684 2,535 5,070
Note: aExceeds the .80 recommended threshold for reliability (Neuendorf 2002).

Model and Hypotheses

This analysis proceeds with three lines of inquiry. First, following previous
scholarship (see e.g., McBeth, Shanahan, and Jones 2005; McBeth et al. 2007;
Merry 2015; Raile et al. 2014; Wilson 2007) we hypothesize that the NRA and
the Brady Campaign craft narratives differently. To test whether or not the
NRA and the Brady Campaign use core NPF elements (hero, villain, victim,
and policy solution) and evidence (scientific studies, public opinion polls, law
and legal rulings, statistics, and ipso dictum) differently (hypothesis 1) we
employ a Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney (WMW) test5 to assess if a significant dif-
ference in means exists. For each test, the means are the percent of the total
number of observations of that element or type of evidence coded as being pre-
sent. Each WMW test compares the mean use of each structural element, and
the five types of evidence.
Second, based on the variety of findings from previous NPF studies we
propose that evidence will be used to strengthen, or buttress, the portrayal of
NPF elements. Specifically, we reason that since evidence is likely to be used
strategically (Jones, McBeth, and Shanahan 2014; Stevens 2007; Weible 2008)
in our case and given that previous NPF studies have found narrative elements
to be persuasive (see e.g., Jones 2010, 2014a, 2014b) in adversarial settings (i.e.,
climate change) that evidence will play a supporting role in policy narratives.

The dichotomous nature of the data results in each of the variables returning a Shapiro-Wilk sta-
tistic of .000 (which is lower than .05, indicating the data is nonnormal), therefore the WMW test
was employed, which does not require a normal distribution of the data (Skovlund and Fenstad
2001). The WMW test results indicate that there were significant differences between the use of
Hero/Ally (.000), Victim (.001), Moral (.000), Legal (.000), Statistics (.002), and Any Evidence
(.000), by the NRA and the Brady Campaign. The differences between the use of Villains (.950),
Science (.198), Public Opinion (.704), and Ipso Dictum (.294) were not statistically significant.
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1067

By supporting role, we mean that our expectation is that evidence will be used
in conjunction with narrative elements to lend them legitimacy granted by evi-
dential elements of the policy narrative setting. While narrative elements such
as characters have been found to be influential in and of themselves, we expect
that evidence will co-occur with elements like characters to lend legitimacy to
their portrayal as a hero, villain, or victim.
To illustrate, the Brady Campaign often referenced victories its lawyers had
achieved in state and federal courts in support of existing gun laws. An exam-
ple of this can be seen in the following paragraph from a column in the Legal
Action newsletter: LAP [Legal Action Project] Director Jonathan Lowy suc-
cessfully argued the case before the Kansas Court of Appeals, who reversed the
trial courts dismissal of one count, and created new law in Kansas holding
that a gun dealer can be liable to victims for negligently entrusting a gun (Bra-
dy Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2011a). This type of evidence relies on
the legally enshrined decision-making authority of the judges to enhance the
Brady Campaigns approach to firearm policy in the United States. By appeal-
ing to the law of the land the Brady Campaign bolsters their role as an effec-
tive hero in the firearms policy arena. To investigate this proposition, our
second hypothesis is that use of evidence in the policy narratives will be posi-
tively associated with the presence of narrative elements. Bivariate correlations
are used to assess the association between the characters and the types of evi-
dence employed by the NRA and the Brady Campaign.
Finally, our third hypothesis is also based on previous NPF scholarship
(e.g., McBeth, Shanahan, and Jones 2005; Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth
2011, 554) positing the devil shift (i.e., the tendency of groups to demonize
their opponents) reduces the use of evidence. The devil shift often appears
in intractable policy areas (Sabatier, Hunter, and McLaughlin 1987), like
firearm policy. Hypothesis 3 is that higher scores on the devil shift measure
will be associated with decreased use of evidence. The devil shift
is computed using the formula described by Heikkila, Weible, and Pierce
(2014, 192).

HV =H1V 5 Devil2Shift

H 5 Number of references to heroes in a policy narrative.
V 5 Number of references to villains in a policy narrative.
The formula produces a value ranging from 21 to 1, where negative values
are indicative of the devil shift.


Analyses support hypotheses 1 and 2, and provide mixed evidence for

hypothesis 3. Regarding the first hypothesis, the NRAs and the Brady
1068 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

Figure 1.
NRA and Brady Campaign Narrative Element and Evidence Mean Percentages
(Paragraph Level) *p <.05, WilcoxonMannWhitney Test.

Campaigns use of heroes, victims, policy solutions,6 and evidence generally

(all five evidence types calculated as a single additive variable) are statistically
different, supporting the first hypothesis (see Figure 1). Interestingly, signifi-
cant differences also exist for legal rulings and statistics, but not other specific
forms of evidence (i.e., when evidence types disaggregated into individual
The Brady Campaigns mean use of heroes and policy solutions is substan-
tially higher than the NRAs, nearly 20 percent more for both categories, but
only 10 percent more for victims. In addition, the Brady Campaign uses any
type of evidence 19 percent more often than the NRA, specifically using legal
evidence (22 percent) and statistics (4 percent) more often. Interestingly, in
every category where a significant difference was identified, the Brady Cam-
paign employed evidence more frequently.
At least one hero appears in 39 percent of the NRAs paragraphs. The
three most popular heroes in the NRAs policy narratives are gun rights

Coding for policy solutions did not reach optimal intercoder reliability measures on
Krippendorffs alpha (.648 < .80) and thus we cannot draw reliable conclusions from this data
regarding differences between the NRA and the Brady Campaign in their use of moral of the story
in their policy narratives. Results are reported here because it nearly met our standard for reliabili-
ty and thus is of some interest.
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1069

Figure 2.
Statistically Significant Character and Evidence Configurations (Percentage of
Paragraphs) *p <.05, WilcoxonMannWhitney Test.

NRA Brady

Vicm + Stats 1.41%


Vicm + Legal 7.82%


Hero + Stats 2.15%


Hero + Legal 8.69


Hero + Vicm + Stattiscs %


Heero + Vicm + Legal 3.15


Hero + Vicm + Legal + Stats 37%


advocates (51 percent),7 surprisingly, the federal government (15 percent), and
state government (7 percent). The NRA mentions the federal government as a
hero 201 times and a villain 788 times. However, when we broke the federal
government code down by branch we found that the NRA was much more
likely to cast the legislature (and its members) as the hero and the executive
(and its agencies) as the villain (see Figure 2). For instance, in this column
penned by then NRA President David A. Keene (Keene 2012, 14) in the
American Rifleman magazine, we can see the NRA lauding federal level
actors including the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, and even the Founders
of the nation itself:

In the twisted mind of New York Citys mayor and his political cronies
(like Queens County D.A. Richard Brown) anyone who believes in the
Second Amendment is apparently guilty of disorderly conduct for sid-
ing with the Founders, the Congress and the Supreme Court rather than

This code included the NRA itself, the National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative
Action (NRA-ILA), the National Rifle Association-Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), and the
many officers and spokespeople associated with the NRA. It also contained other guns-rights
groups (such as the Second Amendment Foundation), but not gun owners, gun dealers, or fire-
arms manufacturers, which were captured under different codes.
1070 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

with them. As a result, hundreds of people have been forced to pay

thousands of dollars in fines and court costs, surrender hundreds of
valuable firearms and hire expensive lawyers to spring them. Id like to
have someone explain how that makes New York any different from a
1950s speed trap or how Michael Bloomberg and his like-minded bedfel-
lows are any different from rural sheriffs more interested in fines than

The Brady Campaign uses the hero character in 56 percent of its coded
paragraphs. The three most popular heroes in the Brady Campaigns policy
narratives are gun control advocates (46 percent),8 local government (15 per-
cent), and state government (9 percent).
Striking differences exist in how the NRA and the Brady Campaign present
victims in policy narratives. The Brady Campaign uses victims 10 percent more
often than the NRA does (31 percent and 21 percent, respectively). The Brady
Campaigns three most frequently identified victims are law enforcement (27
percent), named victims (17 percent),9 and children (10 percent), whereas the
NRA identifies rights (30 percent), average people (11 percent), and gun own-
ers (11 percent) as victims most often.
Supporting the second hypothesis that evidence is associated with narra-
tive element use, both the NRA and the Brady Campaign positively associate
characters with most of the five types of evidence. Thirty relationships dem-
onstrated significance (15 tested for each group), and only three did not.
Interestingly, for the NRA, the only evidence to narrative element relation-
ship that is not correlated is the relationship between legal evidence and vic-
tims. For the Brady Campaign, neither heroes nor villains have a significant
relationship with legal evidence. Drawing on Cohen (1988) we can discern
that while the correlation values for many of the evidence-character combina-
tions are low, they are high enough to prove meaningful. The strength of the
significant associations using Pearsons r is either small (r 5 .10) or medium
(r 5 .30 to .30) (Cohen 1988, 79-81); in short, findings suggest that for both
groups policy narratives, evidence is used to supportor buttresspolicy
characters (Table 3).
Correlations between the narrative elements and types of evidence describe
the mild buttressing role played by evidence. Next, paragraphs displaying par-
ticular arrays of evidence and character types are isolated and described. Both
groups couple evidence with characters in simple combinations, but the Brady
Campaign relies heavily on two approaches, one that couples heroic gun

This category is comprised of the Brady Campaign itself, the Brady Center, the Brady Centers
Legal Action Project, and the various officers for the Brady Center as well as other gun control
organizations (such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns), and individuals.
A category that included the names and identities of those who were shot or their family
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1071

Table 3. Correlation of NPF Structural Components and the Evidence Types

NPF Structural
Brady p-Value Category and Evidence NRA p-Value

.094 <.0001* Victim-Stats .083 <.0001*

.064 .015* Victim-Legal .018 .146
.157 <.0001* Victim-Science .131 <.0001*
.168 <.0001* Victim-Public Opinion .132 <.0001*
.137 <.0001* Victim-Ipso Dictum .093 <.0001*
.182 <.0001* Hero-Stats .153 <.0001*
.032 .364* Hero-Legal .054 <.0001*
.234 <.0001* Hero-Science .192 <.0001*
.242 <.0001* Hero-Public Opinion .193 <.0001*
.219 <.0001* Hero-Ipso Dictum .162 <.0001*
.160 <.0001* Villain-Stats .191 <.0001*
.007 .952 Villain-Legal .095 <.0001*
.215 <.0001* Villain-Science .226 <.0001*
.224 <.0001* Villain-Public Opinion .227 <.0001*
.199 <.0001* Villain-Ipso Dictum .200 <.0001*
Note: *p < .05, WilcoxonMannWhitney test.

control advocates and state or local governments, the other approach focuses
on victimized law enforcement, named victims, and children. These narratives
also involve statistical or legal evidence. Figure 3 illustrates associations
between significant character and evidence types from the preceding analyses.
Interestingly, the Brady Campaign is more likely than the NRA to employ
combinations of narrative characters and legal and statistical information,
except regarding the combination of heroes, victims, and statistics (see Figure 3).

Figure 3.
NRA Federal Government Codes
1072 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

An example of a narrative structure involving heroes, victims, and legal

evidence is seen in this Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (2011b)

The Legal Action Project is asking the Alaska Supreme Court to reverse
a trial courts dismissal of a case brought by the family of Simone
Kim. . .the trial court incorrectly ruled that the Protection of Lawful
Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields the dealer from liability.

The Legal Action Project (an arm of the Brady Campaign) is portrayed as
hero, fighting for a family victimized by gun violence. The Brady Campaign
cites a law (the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act) and issues their
opinion that the court misinterpreted the legislation.
Analysis only partially supports the third hypothesis that a strong devil
shift is associated with a low use of evidence. Findings support hypothesis 3 for
the Brady Campaign but not for the NRA. The NRA uses the devil shift strate-
gy much more (2.30) than the Brady Campaign (20.02). For the Brady
Campaign, the use of the devil shift is correlated with a statistically significant
lack of evidence (2.396). The NRAs narratives did not display this negative
relationship; in fact, there was a statistically significant, though small,
positive relationship between an increased use of the devil shift and the use of
Aggregating the coded paragraphs to the document level shows that in
addition to having a stronger overall devil shift, the NRA publishes a higher
percentage of documents with extreme devil shift scores (between 2.5 and
21.0) than the Brady Campaign (40 percent vs. 19 percent). Interestingly, the
NRA casts the federal government as a villain 39 percent of the time, more
often than any other character. Gun control advocates are the second most
popular villains for the NRA, appearing on 14 percent of the occasions a vil-
lain is used. Finally, criminals are portrayed as villains in 7 percent of our
NRA villain codes.
The Brady Campaign attacks the gun industry most often (28 percent),
with the gun lobby close on its heels (28 percent). Interestingly, the Brady
Campaigns third most frequently identified villain is the same as the NRAs,
with criminals playing the villain in 26 percent of the instances. It is also inter-
esting to note the lack of variety in the Brady Campaigns villains as opposed
to the NRAs. The NRAs top three villains constitute 60 percent of all villain
types in their narratives, whereas, the Brady Campaigns constitutes 83


The analyses presented here suggest interesting differences in the way the
NRA and the Brady Campaign construct policy narratives concerning firearm
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1073

policy surrounding the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school, which

have important implications for our understanding of the role evidence plays in
policy debates. In employing a combination of statistics and legal evidence
while highlighting the presence of victims, the Brady Campaign appears to tar-
get both intellectual and emotional responses with their narratives. For the
Brady Campaign we interpret this to indicate that evidence is used to buttress
narrative characters. Furthermore, the Brady Campaign may be attempting to
present a sophisticated position regarding the firearm policy debate, reliant on
legal and statistical facts, coupled with heroes and victims that are emotion-
ally evocative. This approach illustrates a narrative strategy that Shanahan and
others (2013, 459) describe as designed to draw in more participants and
expand the scope of conflict as opposed to the devil shift approach taken by
the NRA.
The NRA narratives focus on the forces arrayed against them and the
shared endangered values of freedom and liberty. This approach is exemplified
in the NRAs frequent use of the devil shift, illustrating what Shanahan and
others (2013, 359) claim is an additional purpose of policy narratives, which is
to emphasize the power of an opponent while understating the power of the
narrating group or coalition. Considering that the NRA has just under four
million members, compared to the Brady Campaigns much smaller member-
ship, this approach may assist them in leveraging the voting power of members
who may be instrumental in punishing politicians supporting increased regula-
tion on firearms. The strategy of the NRA then, is to define the problem as one
in which elite enemies are intent on abridging average citizens rights. Interest-
ingly, analysis found that the NRA frequently identifies the federal government
as both a hero and villain in its policy narratives. It is possible that this focus
on the federal government reflects their preferred venue for advocating its poli-
cy ideas. According to Pralle (2003), policy entrepreneurs often seek new insti-
tutional venues instrumentally, as they experiment to fit organizational needs
with potential institutional allies. By identifying federal actors as both heroes
and villains the NRA seems to be attempting to reward specific policy actors in
federal venues supporting their image of firearm policy, while villainizing those
who do not (see e.g., Baumgartner and Jones 1993). This mix of both hero and
villain status for federal actors indicates that categorization of government
actors along federalist lines is indicative of a strategic approach to narrative
construction by the NRA.
While this study found significant differences between the narrative
approaches and evidence used by the NRA and the Brady Campaign it is
important to keep in mind the limitations of the current study. Namely that
these results reported here are limited by the fact that they are derived from the
internal narratives of only two organizations and they are also tightly bounded
to a particular time period, as all the policy narratives studied were produced
between August 2010 and March 2013. This suggests that these results can like-
ly not yet be generalized to other interest groups.
1074 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

Finally, it is intriguing to note which types of evidence both groups steer

clear of invoking. In addition to the very few instances of scientific studies, the
use of ipso dictum evidence and public opinion polls are rare. The paucity of
scientific evidence may be in part due to policy limiting government collection
of data on gun violence (Hemenway 2001; Waldman 2014). The lack of refer-
ence to public opinion polls by the Brady Campaign is especially odd when we
consider that there is significant evidence that public opinion is generally sup-
portive of stronger gun control (see Smith 2002; Wilson 2007, 114-5), a fact
from which they should benefit. While the limited nature of this study pre-
cludes generalizations concerning the narratives of other interest groups, future
studies might examine whether certain types of evidence (legal and statistical)
are used in communications aimed at organizational members while other
types of evidence (e.g., public opinion studies and ipso dictum) are used when
communicating with those outside of the organization. In addition, it may be
the case that some forms of evidence are used more often in certain types of
subsystems than others. For instance, it is possible that some types of evidence
are more useful instrumentally or in encouraging policy-orientated learning,
and so may appear more frequently in unitary or collaborative subsystems (see
Weible 2008).
This research has demonstrated that the NRA and the Brady Campaign
craft significantly different gun policy narratives and rely on distinct types of
evidence and narrative strategies. The Brady Campaigns narratives tend to
pair statistical and legal evidence with victims, while minimizing the devil shift.
The NRA takes a different approach, tending to demonize opponents while
simultaneously including evidence, a strategy contrary to previous scholarship.
It is possible that the NRAs simultaneous use of narrative strategy and evi-
dence seeks to buttress the devil shift in addition to characters, underscoring
the organizations emphasis on demonizing its opponents and highlighting the
variable role of evidence in policy debates.
These findings on evidence carry several implications for the development
of the NPF. First, this study takes a first step toward formally situating the
concept of evidence within the NPF as a part of the narrative elements compo-
nent of the framework. The role evidence plays in policy narratives is both nec-
essary and important. NPF studies focusing exclusively on narrative elements
often fail to account for what counts as fact within subsystem discourses and
may run a serious risk of several modeling and theoretical failures. In terms of
modeling, the risk is most clearly an omitted variable biasthat is, it isnt sim-
ply the story that likely counts, but also the construction of the setting and
what is valued as real, settled, a given, etc., within the policy subsystem. This
research has demonstrated the significant role of evidence in the case of the
NRA and the Brady Campaigns internal narratives around the time of the
Sandy Hook school shooting, supporting our proposition that evidence should
be included in such research to account for important narrative dynamics at
play. Certainly, then, future NPF studies should endeavor to better understand
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1075

what counts as evidence among advocacy coalitions and their specific actors
within subsystems, as we have done here; however, future studies should also
examine evidence across these coalitions as well. It is likely that this intra-
coalitional evidence plays an important role in facilitating points of policy con-
vergence within subsystems.
Second, NPF researchers who ignore evidence likely weaken the overall
traction NPF theory has on making sense of the policy process more generally.
Paul Sabatier has consistently maligned the whole of social construction
approaches (to which the NPF proudly subscribes; see Jones and Radaelli
2015) for failing to effectively link their models to institutions or policy settings
(cited in Jones and McBeth 2010, 340)not just the contexts, but the agreed
upon (i.e., intersubjectively reliable) facts. No doubt evidence would fall into
this understanding of policy setting, and NPF studies that take this concept
seriously will take the framework closer to its aspiration to be clear enough to
be wrong. We believe our five categories of evidence are a beginning to effec-
tively operationalizing evidence with the NPF that will first allow researchers
to describe its use within policy narratives as we have done here. More impor-
tantly, however, we hope these categories will also allow researchers to speak
more definitively on the role of policy narratives in shaping policy designs, out-
comes, and processes directly, a step this research did not take.




2. Law firms that are working in tandem with Brady Campaign or the NRA
can be allies.
3. Once you have identified a Hero, Ally, Victim, or Villain code each para-
graph where they are mentioned, even if the paragraph doesnt portray
them in that context specifically. This is important because even though
our level of coding is the paragraph, the narrative itself is presented to the
reader as a totality.

Ex. This means that if in the second paragraph the text reads, The Brady Cam-
paign is attempting to ram its radical anti-freedom agenda down the throats of the
law-abiding citizens of St. Louis. You would code every paragraph that mentioned
the Brady Campaign as containing a Villain code.

4. States can be villains, allies, or neutral depending on how they are por-
trayed in the text.

Ex. Agreeing with arguments made by the Brady Campaign, a federal judge threw
out a lawsuit brought by the Second Amendment Foundation and other gun lobby
groups that sought to enforce Montanas Firearms Freedom Act. The law is one
1076 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

of a number of controversial state laws that attempt to exempt guns made in the
state from federal gun laws. (Montana is being portrayed here as a Villain)

5. The term Brady background check is a mention of a legal requirement,

not of the Brady Campaign. If the status quo is what is being defended
that is the policy solution. If there is no explicit text that discusses a policy
solution, then do not code.

Ex. The report discusses how officers are increasingly at risk of being shot as a result
of loopholes in federal law, and weak often nonexistent state gun laws that make it
far too easy for dangerous people to obtain guns in America. This includes the avail-
ability of assault weapons and assault clips, also known as large capacity ammuni-
tion magazines, which have been used against law enforcement with increasing
frequency since the federal ban expired in 2004; the ease of buying guns without
Brady background checks; and severe constraints on law enforcement that allow cor-
rupt gun dealers to continue to fuel the criminal gun market without punishment or
license revocation.

6. Coding is done by the paragraph.

7. Citing a Law or Legal Ruling (Not the person or institution issuing the
statement) 5 Legal Evidence.

Ex. Jonathan Lowy, the Director of the Brady Campaigns Legal Action Project
who argued the case in court, stated, States and cities have the authority to keep
guns off the streets. The Supreme Courts ruling in Heller found a right of responsi-
ble citizens to have a gun in the home, but the Court has never suggested that the
Constitution requires guns to be allowed in our streets and parks. (Here the para-
graph contains two mentions of legal evidence, Heller and the United States Consti-
tution. So, it would be coded with a 1 in the Legal? Column)

8. Those who take action w/Purpose 5 Heroes.

Ex. The Brady Campaign filed an amicus brief on July 19, 2011, in the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit urging dismissal of the appeal. The Brady
Campaigns brief highlights the severe danger posed by concealed weapons, with
studies showing that the carrying of firearms in public is not a useful or effective
form of self-defense and, in fact, repeatedly has been shown to increase the risks
that one will fall victim to violent crime. (Here the Brady Campaign is taking action
with the purpose of protecting public safety)

9. Those who legitimate the action or the purpose (Appeal to Authori-

ty) 5 Allies.

Ex. This year, the discussion was led off by Stephen P. Halbrook, who represented
NRA in both the Heller and McDonald cases, and who currently represents plain-
tiffs challenging the District of Columbias outrageous post-Heller restrictions on
gun owners rights. Joining Halbrook for the discussion was David Thompson of
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1077

Cooper & Kirk, LLC, who represents plaintiffs challenging Chicagos equally outra-
geous new laws. Thompson also discussed the cases challenging federal age limits on
handgun purchases by 18-year-old adults, and on issuance of Texas carry permits to
those same citizens. Thompson represents both NRA and individual plaintiffs in the
age limit cases. (Cooper & Kirk, LLC is here being portrayed as an Ally because it
is serves to aid and validate the NRAs position)

Someone who is partnering with NRA or Brady, professionals/experts/academics, to

further their agenda. An individual who allows for legal standing is not sufficient
to be an ally, though they may become one if they engage in action above and
beyond (such as starting a program, and making speeches).

10. A harm currently exists or will be caused by a particular action or inaction

a victim may be a person, or it may be a right (look for key words; like
harm, damage, undone, etc.) 5 Victim.

Ex. Working together, we can end that rule and take back our freedom as the
birthright of every American that no president, no bureaucrat, no judge and no poli-
tician can ever take away. (Here the victim is every American because they are
being harmed (or potentially harmed) by a president, bureaucrat, judge or politician
who may try to take away their right)

11. Those who create a harm, or inflict damage or pain upon a victim or, in
other cases as one who opposes the aims of the Hero 5 Villain.

Ex. If the NRA has its way, guns will be forced onto the streets of Denver, and Col-
orado will be denied the right to enforce its legal restrictions on the public carrying
of firearms. On March 19, 2012, the Brady Campaign appeared in federal appeals
court in Denver to stop them, to fight for the rights of all Americans to keep guns
off their streets. (Here the NRA is being portrayed as a villain. Note the use of the
words forced, denied the right)

12. Policy solution 5 a primary reference (policy solution is mentioned in the

sentence) taking an explicit normative stance toward enacting a program
(collective action other than government) or implementing or enforcing a
law (government action) look for the key words: should/shouldnt,
needed/unnecessary, the world would be better if. . ./the world
would be worse off if. . . that kind of thing. The source of the advocacy
doesnt matter.

Ex. The fact that this scheme applies only to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and
Texas and not to the rest of the nation is irrelevant. Centralized registration, in any
form, should never apply to any law-abiding American anywhere. (The policy solu-
tion is to oppose any form of centralized registration of gun owners)

13. Scientific Study 5 any occasion that a narrative invokes a study, in general,
as a source of facts (note that if a narrative mentions an opinion poll, even
1078 | POLITICS & POLICY / December 2016

if it was reported in a scientific study that this should be coded as a Public

Opinion Poll).

Ex. According to a study recently released by Stanford University researchers there

is an increased chance of fatal shootings of children under age 18 in homes where
the parents own guns.

14. Statistics 5 here you should think concerning numbers that are not con-
nected to scientific study, or public opinion poll.

Ex. 26,000 NRA members in Wyoming cant be wrong. Or 13,000 gun-related inju-
ries were reported in California alone last year.

15. Ipso Dictumbasically, this in an appeal to authority. This could be either

scientific, political, celebrity, or legal authority. (Here you need to tread care-
fully, since the appeal to authority could be nuanced. So, for example, this
statement Dr. Ferguson, a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Virgin-
ia Tech, indicated that the NRAs position on the individual right to a fire-
arm ignores the historical context that the founding generation took for
granted. This is an Ipso Dictum code, because it cites Dr. Ferguson, and
not any particular scientific work. If, instead, the text read, Dr. Ferguson, a
Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Virginia Tech, indicated that his
research had discovered that 56 percent of Americans thought that the
NRAs position on the individual right to a firearm ignores the historical
context that the founding generation took for granted. Then this would be
coded as a Public Opinion Poll)
16. Otherevidence that does not fall into any of the above categories (note, this
code did not appear in the codebook and was only generated as coders iden-
tified several pieces of evidence that fell outside of the existing codes).

About the Authors

Aaron Smith-Walter is an assistant professor of political science at the

University of Massachusetts Lowell. His research interests include the use of
Cultural Theory in understanding the selection of public participation mech-
anisms by Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) planning staff, the
narrative policy framework (NPF), and the images of public administration
in popular apocalyptic fiction.
Holly L. Peterson is a doctoral candidate in public policy at Oregon State
University. Her research primarily focuses on policy theory and the policy-
making process.
Michael D. Jones is an assistant professor at Oregon State Universitys
School of Public Policy. His research focuses on policy theory, with recent
publications appearing in the Policy Studies Journal, Political Psychology,
and Social Science Quarterly. He is the editor, with Elizabeth A. Shanahan
Smith-Walter et al. / GUN STORIES | 1079

and Mark K. McBeth, of The Science of Stories: Applications of the Narra-

tive Policy Framework in Public Policy Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan 2014).
Ashley Nicole Reynolds Marshall, JD is a PhD candidate at the Center
for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech. She is interested in
narrative policy framework, collaborations, and nonprofit management.
Much of her work examines the intersection of corporate social responsibility
and third sector collaborations. She also serves as a practitioner at United
Way of Roanoke Valley in Roanoke, Virginia serving as their Financial Sta-
bility Strategies Manager.



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