Local TV, Let’s Really Talk About Guns

The shooting death of News 13 Orlando reporter Dylan Lyons (left) and wounding of photojournalist Jesse Walden last week is but the latest urgent signal that we are deep in the throes of a public health crisis. Local TV has an obligation to seize the moment and address the problem head on.

Emily Barr

Full disclosure: I am no fan of guns. I have held and fired a gun only twice. Once was while visiting an old friend in rural Alaska, who suggested I should understand the basics before we headed out on a hike through bear country. A second time when I was participating in an FBI Citizen’s Academy program back in Chicago. The weight of the weapons and power of the kickback caught me off guard, but one thing I knew for certain: I did not enjoy the experience. Not surprisingly, I do not own a gun.

Last week, an Orlando television news crew became the latest victim of the gun violence epidemic we cover daily across our communities. In the coming days, we will ask ourselves, among other things, how to keep our crews safe while reporting on the very issues so many in our communities live with every second of their lives. The question is important, but it is so much bigger than that. And it is high time we in the media start asking for and demanding answers. We need to use our reach and frequency for a greater good.

How did we become a country with more guns than people? Why do we accept the notion that the Second Amendment categorically denies sensible gun legislation? Why is it so difficult for our elected officials to pass laws that might improve our collective safety? How do we keep covering murder and mayhem perpetrated by people with unfettered access to guns and not ask ourselves about the common denominator of the guns themselves. We cannot even agree that people with mental health issues that might make them a danger to themselves or others should not be allowed to purchase a gun. Really?

The news media has tried to apply a both-sideism approach to gun safety legislation coverage that has unintentionally built up a sense of inevitability when it comes to crime. It needs to change.

We often find ourselves buying into the idea that America is a gun-loving culture and we will never get rid of guns, so what’s the use in even talking about it? Every day, there are shootings on college campuses, elementary or high schools or simply on a playground or street or in big cities or small towns or in places of worship, grocery stores, workplaces or just anywhere, anytime, shattering families simply trying to live their lives. Our children are taught to hide, fight, run (or is it run, fight, hide?) when they are still learning how to read and write. The land of the free and the home of the brave? I think not.


Decades ago, television helped educate and inform Americans about the health risks of cigarette smoking. Despite a huge tobacco industry and fierce lobbying effort, today you are unlikely to be allowed to smoke indoors because of the health risks to yourself and others. Yes, people still smoke, but they cannot escape the dire warnings stamped on every pack of cigarettes and the endless “no smoking” signs posted seemingly everywhere. And in case you don’t remember this, it was a Justice Department lawsuit that led to a requirement that tobacco companies promote the dangers of using their products. First came the public service announcements, then came the mandated ads. And it was all done in the name of public health.

I would submit to you that television can and should play a similar role when it comes to gun safety. Please note, I am not talking about gun control. I am talking about safety. Gun violence is every bit the public health crisis that smoking was deemed to be. According to Pew Research, 2020 was the worst year on record for gun-related deaths. Nearly 8 in 10 murders (79%) involved a firearm. More gun-involved murders took place in 2020 than any year since 1968 and that was 34% higher than 2021. If this is not a public health crisis, I do not know what is.

I am devastated for the family and friends of the murdered Orlando journalist and his photographer currently fighting for his life. They were simply trying to cover one story — one murder, actually — when they became the story in yet another chapter of America’s growing gun violence epidemic. Local and network television, cable and streamers alike need to step up and shine a bright light on this very real, dangerous and growing public health crisis. The news media, especially local stations all across our country, reach a tremendous number of Americans across the political divide and have earned the credibility and respect to ask the tough questions and demand real answers.

A deluge of news coverage and reporting, public service announcements and the unflinching and uncomfortable focus we are collectively capable of delivering could help bring all of us to our senses. We have no more time or lives to waste. The time to do this is now.

Emily Barr is the former president and CEO of Graham Media Group.

Comments (8)

Leave a Reply

Raw Travel TV says:

February 28, 2023 at 9:09 am

Wonderful piece. “We need to use our reach and frequency for a greater good.” – why is this concept to hard to grasps when it comes to guns? Stations get it but lack the immense courage it will take to alienate the % of their viewers who have been weaponized (pun intended) against all common sense when it comes to gun safety and other hot button issues. Does anyone remember when climate change wasn’t a partisan political issue, just scientific fact… I do. It wasn’t that long ago that anything considered environmentally friendly wasn’t considered being “woke” or “communism” – I know this because this is the reality I face now. I’ve been called these names and worse for simply highlighting and encouraging sustainable travel. Something I’ve always done. . Guns are even more hot button. Yet stations air syndicated hunting shows that feature a young kid shooting an AR 15 or some kind of automatic weapon (full disclosure – I don’t own a gun either) in the opening of the show. That goes over well in the ever expanding number of communities with mass school shootings I bet. How disrespectful and the opposite of using “reach and frequency for greater good.” Alas Wall Street does not give a damn about the greater good, but stations certainly should… after all, aren’t stations still touting “working hard for you”, “on your side,” producing “news you can trust” ? Folks still do trust local news. What better way to show the community stations really do care about the communities they serve? Thank you for writing this piece, Emily.. Robert Rose

RustbeltAlumnus2 says:

February 28, 2023 at 9:57 am

Run, hide, fight. That’s what everyone should know, not just children.

Serial killers use knives and swords. They mow down people with vehicles, too. The worst school massacre ever was in Michigan in 1926 by a disgruntled man with a lot of explosives. Look it up (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster)

But, seriously, guns are really bad. Gun culture is bad (and sick). My dad went hunting deer every year but used a bow and arrow. He served in WWII and never wanted a gun in sight, let alone at home, so I guess I don’t get it.

The states with the strongest gun laws have plenty of mass shootings, so it’s time to make the manufacture and sale of guns of any kind illegal in the US. I wish we could ask our forefathers, is this really what you had in mind for the Second Amendment? I doubt it.

TheVoiceofTruth says:

February 28, 2023 at 10:02 am

More liberal tripe from Barr. First we’re supposed to downplay crime that is raging in our cities ( and in turn & run cover for one party). Now we’re supposed promote one side of the argument, pick sides and argue against the second.
So much for journalistic balance; she once again advocates dropping standards and becoming a flack for leftist ideology.

Les Vann says:

February 28, 2023 at 11:07 am


This is a brilliant idea. I am sick and tired of the mass murders with guns in this country. The power of local television can help stop these savage acts. We didn’t even blink after Sandy Hook. I have many friends that are responsible gun owners and sportsmen and women. They want to help too. No one needs a weapon of war to go hunting. This madness has to stop. Thanks for getting the ball rolling.

Les Vann
Retired TV GM

Les Vann says:

February 28, 2023 at 11:10 am


This is a brilliant idea. I am sick and tired of the mass murders with guns in this country. The power of local television can help stop these savage acts. We didn’t even blink after Sandy Hook. I have many friends that are responsible gun owners and sportsmen and women. They want to help too. No one needs a weapon of war to go hunting. Thanks for getting the ball rolling.

Les Vann
Retired TV GM

tvn-member-2791368 says:

February 28, 2023 at 2:31 pm

That needs to be said, over and over. We as broadcasters need to be a part of the solution. The dustbin of history awaits this idiocy.

Pete Barrett
Retired TV Management Guy

Kathy Haley says:

March 1, 2023 at 8:47 am

Thanks, Emily, for a heartfelt comment. It makes me think: local TV news organizations can report the facts about gun violence in their communities. Focus, in a regular series, about the amount of local gun ownership, the effect of state and local gun laws, and how guns can be and are being safely stored in owners’ homes. Going local on this issue could make a significant difference in public understanding of the facts.

Joe Bottoms!! says:

March 20, 2023 at 7:21 am

What a nice soft piece telling us who have a clue nothing new..Save your ink lady..Maybe you should educate yourself on guns but no, you have spent your whole life fearing them and drinking the leftie kool-aid. Let’s put it straight..Want to ban cars when some nut gets behind the wheel and kills people…Lets keep it simple for you media hacks..It’s not the gun its the people using them wrongly, It’s not the golf club its the swing…When will you get i??… and stop pontificating with this bull sh..Do you really trust a hack like Joe Biden if they took the guns away.?? He’d turn on this country in a minute.. We all know you people in media had a tough time getting through college but surely you can understand this… can you not??