Hollywood’s Gun Love Raises Shooting Risks On & Off Set

Prominent placement in high-profile films can result in a significant bump in sales for gun models, write Brad Bushman and Dan Romer.

Actor Alec Baldwin. (Mark Sagliocco, Getty Images for National Geographic)

By Brad Bushman and Dan Romer 

The Conversation 

In what appears to be a tragic accident, actor Alec Baldwin shot dead a cinematographer on Oct 21, while discharging a prop gun on set in New Mexico.

It is too early to speculate what went wrong during the filming of the Western movie “Rust.” But the incident, in which the film’s director was also injured, highlights a simple fact: Guns are commonplace in Hollywood films.

As scholars of mass communication and risk behavior, we have studied the growing prevalence of firearms on screen and believe that the more guns there are in movies, the more likely it is that a shooting will occur – both in the “reel” world and in the “real” world.

Gun violence in Hollywood movies has increased dramatically over time, especially in movies accessible to teens. Indeed, our research shows that acts of gun violence in PG-13 movies nearly tripled over the 30 years between 1985 (the year after the rating was introduced) and 2015. Similar trends have been observed in popular TV dramas, with the rate of gun violence depicted in prime time dramas doubling between 2000 and 2018.

Of course, depictions of violence in the entertainment industry are nothing new. The use of guns in Hollywood films has a long tradition going back to the gangster movies of the 1930s. Guns were also featured heavily in the Western TV shows of the 1950s.

The upsurge in the depiction of guns in movies and TV shows is likely related to the realization that violence draws audiences and guns are an easy way to dramatize violence. And here filmmakers have a willing accomplice in the gun industry.

Media outlets are averse to allowing gun advertising on TV or mass-circulated magazines. But guns are amply displayed in top-grossing movies and popular TV dramas.

Please Support CN’s Fall Fund Drive!

We know that the gun industry pays production companies to place its products in their movies. They are rewarded with frequent appearances on screen, so much so that in 2010 the firearm company Glock won a “lifetime achievement award for product placement,” with a citation noting that Glocks appeared in 22 box office No. 1 films during that year.

The payoff for gun companies can be great – prominent placement in high-profile films can result in a significant bump in sales for gun models.

Making Guns ‘Cool’

But the potential harm caused by guns in Hollywood goes far beyond the occasional tragic accident on set. Studies show that simply seeing a gun can increase aggression in the viewer through what is called the “weapons effect.”

Violent movies and TV programs, which often contain guns, can likewise increase aggression and make viewers numb to the pain and suffering of others, numerous studies show.

And children might be especially vulnerable – which makes it all the more notable that the prevalence of guns in PG-13 movies has increased over the decades.

Younger viewers will often identify movie characters as being “cool” and want to imitate their behavior.

This was seen with smoking on screen: Children who see movie characters smoke cigarettes are more likely to smoke themselves. A similar effect was observed with children who watched movie characters drink alcohol.

In a study conducted by one of us, pairs of children ages 8 to 12 were first randomly assigned to watch a PG-rated movie clip containing guns or the same movie clip with the guns edited out.

They were then put in a room that contained several toys and games, while being observed by a hidden camera.

A cabinet in the room contained a real, but disabled, 9mm handgun that had been modified with a digital counter to record the number of times children pulled the trigger.

Most children (72 percent) opened the drawer and found the gun. But children who watched the movie clip with guns in it held the handgun longer – on average 53.1 seconds compared with 11.1 seconds for those who watched a clip without guns. They also pulled the trigger more times – 2.8 times on average compared with 0.01 times for those who watched the movie clip without guns.

Some children engaged in very dangerous behaviors with the real gun, such as pulling the trigger while pointing the gun at themselves or their partner. One boy pointed the real gun out the laboratory window at people in the street.

The kind of gun violence featured in Hollywood movies tends to highlight the justified use of those weapons. When characters use guns to defend themselves or family, their use is seen as acceptable.

This has the result of encouraging viewers to think that using guns for the protection of self or others is virtuous.

Reflecting or Glamorizing Violence?

The United States is the most heavily armed society in the world. Although consisting of about 4 percent of the world’s population, U.S. citizens possess almost half of the world’s guns.

In featuring guns so heavily, there is a danger that Hollywood is not merely reflecting society – it is encouraging firearm sales.

While incidents of actors and film production staff being injured or killed through accidental shootings are thankfully rare, the likelihood of fatal shootings – accidental or otherwise – in the real world goes up with every sale of the kinds of guns featured by Hollywood.

Brad Bushman is professor of communication and Rinehart chair of mass communication at The Ohio State University

Dan Romer is research director, Annenberg Public Policy Center, at the University of Pennsylvania.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Please Support Our
Fall Fund Drive!

Donate securely with PayPal


Or securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:




8 comments for “Hollywood’s Gun Love Raises Shooting Risks On & Off Set

  1. Aaron
    October 27, 2021 at 18:54

    So true, no doubt about it. Jerks like Baldwin and Eastwood are just fake tough guys, they wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in the actual Wild West. And yet they do damage by glamorizing gun violence and therefore, promoting the sales of more guns.

    “Gangster lean
    Feelin’ so mean
    Tryin’ to take more than their share
    ‘Cause all they saw
    Was ruling it all
    The scent of blood was in the air
    Bang bang, shoot ’em up
    Bang bang, blow you away
    It’s a showdown in the no man’s land for the cowboy of the modern day”

    – Modern Day Cowboy – Tesla

  2. michael888
    October 27, 2021 at 13:51

    I grew up in a rural area where guns were viewed like shovels, as tools. We had gun safety drilled into us from an early age before we went hunting with our fathers. Even gun as protection was viewed secondarily to use as a tool for hunting, food and sport.
    It is inconceivable than someone could take a gun (“ALL GUNS ARE LOADED!”) and point it directly at someone (“You Never Point a Gun at Something or Take the Safety Off Unless You want to Kill IT!”). Should never happen!
    I only can remember one shooting accident while I was young. Someone from the city with an illegal gun (a rifle, only shotguns were legal to hunt deer where I lived), shot someone seeing movement at a distance and mistaking white for antlers. At least he owned up to it, and the victim survived (the shooter immediately gave up hunting).
    The major cause of deaths and serious accidents while deer hunting is falls from tree stands; accidental shootings are almost unheard of.

  3. robert e williamson jr
    October 27, 2021 at 12:06

    Anyone ever consider that constant war WI, WWII, Korea,Vietnam, Asia, Africa and the U.S. government’s insistence on being involved might have something to do with with TV and Hollywood insisting they get their share of profits from death might have something to do with this.

    I mean seriously. As for RiceWheelock’s comment, what about the children in these foreign countries that witness their family members being turned inside out before their very eyes. Now that is truly pornographic.

    Real bullets in the land of make believe are a terrible mix. The people who die in movies didn’t really die did they?

    If one was to hand a gun to a veteran of terrible experiences in real war, assuming one could get that person to take the gun in hand the very first thing that person would do is to check the firearm to determine if it’s loaded.

    I not really sure what people expect in a country where the super rich profit greatly from the death of others.

    We fight unnecessary wars, destroy the earth, create human being with no hope of a future and you folks wonder why.

    I am a Trump hater, everything the son of a bitch stands for, but also don’t give one shit for Biden who seems to be okay with letting all available records on the JFK death be scrutinized and possible sanitized before those of us who pay the bills, support the economy, and vote these fools into office get to the truth.

    But what do I know.

    Thanks CN

  4. Flint Weston
    October 27, 2021 at 10:24

    Bang-bang, (((Hollywood))) in a nutshell. Whether protagonists are bangin’ foes or bangin’ hoes, it’s all protected by our 1st amendment. Protecting our speech about (((Hollywood)))? Not so much. “ ???? ??? “ (To who by whom?), THAT is the (Russian) question!

    • Flint Weston
      October 27, 2021 at 10:41

      Sorry, “kto kogo?”

  5. RiceWheelock
    October 26, 2021 at 23:17

    What about children viewing sexual conduct, flirtations, or exhibitionist behavior in video media?

  6. Gerry L Forbes
    October 26, 2021 at 17:01

    I can understand why there might be guns on a movie set. What I can’t understand is why there are bullets on a movie set.

  7. bobLich
    October 26, 2021 at 14:03

    I’m sure the Military Industrial Complex and the US war department like all the guns in movies also.

Comments are closed.