The NRA Responds to the Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary
In a delayed response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings, NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s press conference on Friday, December 21, tried to scrape the blame for gun violence away from guns, and onto… video games? Video games, really?
Yes, he really said it:
“And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?”
“Having first labeled school shooters ‘so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them’ (emphasis his), LaPierre attributed to them the rationality to target schools because the lack of guns there makes them the ‘safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.’ His solution: more guns in schools.”
Oremus goes on to examine one of the games called out by LaPierre, Kindergarden Killer. This game, in another display of mind-bending irony, is about a shooter gunning down children at a school in which every single child is armed and shooting back. Let that soak in a moment.
The NRA is Not Here to Help Gun Owners
First, we must remember that the National Rifle Association isn’t working to enact sensible public policy: the NRA’s purpose is to help weapon manufacturers sell guns. The NRA is a $25M/year operation, and the gun industry represents $12B/year. Where money is involved, expect that those with the money will fight like devils and use any underhanded tactic they can to protect the money that flows like milk from the teat of a credulous public, a public that believes FOX News and right-wing talking heads when told that Obama will take away their guns, so “buy them now while you can!”
The Sunlight Foundation illustrates the problem brilliantly:
So, Why Video Games?
So, back to our topic, why is the NRA blaming mass shootings and gun violence on video games, of all things?
Josh Sugarmann, head of the Violence Policy Center, a group seeking tighter gun laws, told NPR that weapons manufacturers see their money dribbling away into alternate markets: “They’ve recognized that the traditional market — traditional hunting rifles and shotguns — is saturated. So there’s an ever-shrinking market that’s buying more and more lethal weapons.” As NPR has said, “Studies show the American gun culture faces long-term problems: too many older white guys; dwindling land for hunting, as suburbs encroach; and kids who pick up video games rather than BB guns.”
In other words, if you are playing Call of Duty or World of Warcraft or any other of the many types of video games available today, then you are NOT out at a rifle range expending ammunition and driving ammo sales; you probably are NOT investing in the newest, most-deadly killing technology, but rather spending your discretionary budget on new releases for your games, in-game goodies, game currency, etc. as shown by the fact that the $68 billion global games market continues to grow explosively.
Video games are a mature, 30 year old media form that’s entered the cultural mainstream. Although the popular conception of video game players involves sweaty young men on a ratty couch, video games are “a significant cultural force crossing old demographic boundaries, and are now played by a majority of Americans… Over 60% of Americans play some form of interactive game on a regular basis, and 32% of the game playing population is now over 35. Financially, games have passed the motion picture industry in sales” (Williams and Skoric).
In other words, the gun industry wants its money back, and it apparently will stoop to any extreme to ensure they get it.
But, Are Video Games Actually Making Kids Violent?
The most current studies show that violent impulses and video games don’t actually have a clear relationship, and certainly not a causal one. Studies continue to show that exposure to video game violence doesn’t change short-term nor long-term aggressive behavior or cognitive outcomes, and this effect extends across all age brackets.
What a lot of studies on violence and video games ignore is that correlation does not prove causation. The question that should be asked is, “Do children with less parental involvement and supervision play more violent video games? If that is the case, then is any correlation with violence due not to the games, per se, but rather to a lack of parental supervision and interaction?”
The Washington Post published a ten-country comparison showing video game use vs. gun deaths. The results are startling:
“So, what have we learned? That video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence. That countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.”
But — good news for MMOGs — research has shown that playing violent games cooperatively decreased arousal and violent cognition. It’s not the the content of the game, or the violence involved, but rather how video game players are playing the game.
Haven’t We Seen This Before?
Most of us aren’t old enough to recall the huge Comic Book Debate of the 1950s, but the arguments used then against “crime and horror” comic books are nearly identical to those being trotted out about video games today. A great example is the New York statute that is partially quoted in the Supreme Court case Winters v. New York (1948):
“Whereas, we believe that the destructive and adventurous potentialities of boys and adolescents, and of adults of weak character or those leading a drab existence are often stimulated by collections of pictures and stories of criminal deeds of bloodshed or lust so massed as to incite to violent and depraved crimes against the person; and
Whereas, we believe that such juveniles and other susceptible characters do in fact commit such crimes at least partly because incited to do so by such publications, the purpose of which is to exploit such susceptible characters; and
Whereas, such belief, even though not capable of statistical demonstration, is supported by our experience as well as by the opinions of some specialists qualified to express opinions regarding criminal psychology and not disproved by others; and
Whereas, in any event there is nothing of possible value to society in such publications, so that there is no gain to the State, whether in edification or enlightenment or amusement or good of any kind; and
Whereas, the possibility of harm by restricting free utterance through harmless publications is too remote and too negligible a consequence of dealing with the evil publications with which we are here concerned…”
You could easily mistake this as a jeremiad against video games today.
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- Day T and R. Hall. “Déjà Vu: From Comic Books to Video Games: Legislative Reliance on ‘Soft Science’ to Protect Against Uncertain Societal Harm Linked to Violence v. the First Amendment”. Oregon Law Review 89:2 (2010). pp. 415-504. http://law.uoregon.edu/org/olrold/archives/89/Day.pdf
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- Oremus, Will. “In Kindergarten Killer, the Video Game the NRA Blamed for School Shootings, Everyone Has a Gun”. Slate (December 21, 2012). http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/12/21/kindergarten_killers_nra_s_wayne_lapierre_blames_violent_video_games_for.html
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- Sugarmann, Josh and Marty Langley. Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA. Washington, D.C.: Violence Policy Center. April 2011. http://www.vpc.org/studies/bloodmoney.pdf
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- Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507, SCOTUS 1948. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16314089118204976902
- Wymann, Adrian. “He Was a Psychiatrist, So People Listened: Fredric Wertham’s Psychopathology of Comic Books – Leading the Anti-Comics Movement of the Late 1940s”. Panelology. 2010. http://www.panelology.info/Wertham1940s.html