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Minimal On-Screen Gun Use Doesn’t Affect Shows’ Popularity, Study Finds

Photo by Thom Milkovic via Unsplash

Minimal On-Screen Gun Use Doesn’t Affect Shows’ Popularity, Study Finds

By Movieguide® Contributor

A study found that gun use on TV shows was down this fall because of the actors’ and writers’ strikes, a change that had little effect on shows’ ratings.

With the actors’ and writers’ strike this summer, cable television was largely void of new seasons of scripted shows this fall. As unscripted shows ate up more airtime, Project Unloaded, a nonprofit working to change the public perception of gun usage to improve gun safety, wanted to see how this change would affect the frequency of gun portrayal.

Violence is typically understood to be one of the factors that can draw in higher ratings for a show. For this reason, many scripted shows lean into violence or the opportunity for violence to draw in an audience. For this reason, in 2022, 25 episodes that aired on CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC during primetime hours over a weeklong period included a gun. This year, only 15 episodes featured a gun over the same weeklong period on the same networks.

This significant drop in gun use is primarily due to fewer scripted shows airing, as the researchers predicted. This allowed them to study how this change affected ratings and if gun portrayal is necessary for a show’s popularity.

“When content featuring guns dropped dramatically in the fall of 2023, viewership of network shows remained stable,” the study said. “In fact, in 2023 content without guns outperformed shows that portrayed guns and gun violence.”

CBS led the four networks in gun portrayal, hosting 10 of the 15 episodes featuring a gun. This is largely due to its law enforcement-related content, such as FBI: MOST WANTED and NCIS.

“This report should be seen as an invitation to those involved in developing scripted shows to really consider the messages those shows send about guns,” said Shiven Patel, a member of Project Unloaded’s Youth Council.

“As scripted content starts to return to television, creators and writers could pay attention to what their shows tell audiences about using guns – and if they really need guns to tell a compelling story,” he continued. “Gun violence is the number one killer of my generation. We need everyone with a public platform to do their part to help make us all safer.”

Screen Rant added, “This data is surprising given the general rhetoric surrounding gun use in Hollywood. While there are a fair share of detractors of gun use on screen, the argument tends to be that gun use is highly glamorized in Hollywood film and television. Even if this is true, the Project Unloaded study shows that this romanticization is not fully working.”

Movieguide® previously reported:

Thousands of studies have shown that depictions of violence in the mass media can lead to actual violent behavior among consumers of such violence, especially children and teenagers.

Two new double-blind studies, one on movies conducted in 2017 and a follow-up study on video games conducted in 2019, show that watching characters use guns in movies and video games can encourage children to use guns, Dr. Brad Bushman, Professor of Communications and Psychology at Ohio State University, reported in a recent article in Psychology Today.

In the 2017 study, 104 children aged 8-12 were tested in pairs who knew each other. The children were “randomly assigned to watch a 20-minute clip from a PG movie with guns or the same clip with the guns edited out.” After watching the clips, the children were able to play for 20 minutes with toys, with a real disabled 9-mm handgun hidden in a cabinet.

Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


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