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Inside Hollywood’s new effort to curb gun deaths

An elite police tactical officer comes home after an exhausting shift.

He and his wife begin sharing details of their respective day – the cop recounting a harrowing moment saving the life of a woman and her child.

But before officer Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson settles in, he has an important stop to make. Hondo heads to the bedroom closet, removes his semi-automatic service weapon, and safely locks it away in his gun safe.

This scene is much more than a brief pause in the non-stop action on the hit CBS television show “S.W.A.T.,” rather, the intentional result of a new partnership between Hollywood and safety advocates to help save lives in an era of seemingly endless gun violence.

“I’m big badass Hondo, and I get out there and take down bad guys,” actor Shemar Moore, who plays Hondo, told CNN. “But when I come home…I own a firearm, but it’s safe, it’s protected.”

This approach of utilizing the entertainment industry to model safe practices is one of the successes of “Show Gun Safety,” a campaign launched by the advocacy group Brady United, which is now partnering with television studios across the country.

‘A uniquely American epidemic’

“We lose eight kids a day in this country — a uniquely American epidemic — to family fire,” Kris Brown, president of Brady United, told CNN. “That’s because of firearms in the home that are not safely stored.”

Last year, the group organized a White House roundtable with actors and writers, including “S.W.A.T.” showrunner Andrew Dettmann.

“I think the thing that really pulled me was when they were talking about the fact that guns had become the number one killer of kids,” Dettmann told CNN during a recent visit to the Sony Pictures set where “S.W.A.T.” is filmed.

While gun policies can be politically polarizing, Dettmann said encouraging the safe storage of firearms shouldn’t be controversial at all.

“This is not part of that larger gun debate,” he said, noting the show’s audience includes individuals across the political spectrum. However, he believes the drama’s approach to depicting guns properly secured is a “common sense” issue that could shape viewer behavior and prevent gun accidents.

“Stow it safely, don’t leave it out in the house, and if they see their favorite characters doing it on a regular basis, maybe that influences them some way.”

Shemar Moore as Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson in "S.W.A.T." - Bill Inoshita/Sony Pictures Television/CBS
Shemar Moore as Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson in "S.W.A.T." - Bill Inoshita/Sony Pictures Television/CBS

The influence of Hollywood is backed by academic research.

“People think media characters are cool – they want to be like them,” said Brad Bushman, Professor of Communication at The Ohio State University, who has studied how witnessing safe gun practices impacts behavior. “If they view their favorite character using guns in a safe way, then what they learn is a script for how they can behave themselves.”

Bushman said viewers “encode” behavior they see on screen in their own memory, which is tapped into when someone finds themselves in a similar situation as an actor.

While the production team at “S.W.A.T.” has purposefully incorporated safe gun storage into their scripts, they haven’t stopped there. The show has also curbed the amount of gunfire shown.

“Maybe the director had an automatic weapon in mind, but maybe we can pull that back and just have it be a few shots so that we don’t have all this gratuitous gunfire with no consequences,” Dettmann said.

“We’ve got to start normalizing this behavior across the board,” Christian Heyne, chief policy officer of Brady United, and a gun violence survivor whose mother was shot and killed in 2005, told CNN.

Heyne hopes the organization’s “Show Gun Safety” campaign succeeds like past advocacy partnerships with Hollywood to deglamorize smoking and to promote safe driving.

“You will never see somebody get into a car on a film or on television and not put a seatbelt on. We have to be thinking the same way about gun violence,” Heyne said, “to really create a movement in Hollywood where this becomes second nature. If you’re able to impact culture and policy, you will significantly lower the gun death rate.”

Back out on the set of “S.W.A.T.,” Moore had just finished filming a scene. The father of a young daughter both on and off screen, and a gunowner himself, paused to describe what it’s like knowing his performance on the show might save lives.

“If people are going to watch me and listen to me, and I know that by behavior – by how I present myself – somebody could follow suit, that’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “So hopefully this is a reminder to the adults, to the parents, to be extra cautious.”

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