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Gun Control Debate: Video Games Are Being Scapegoated For the Sandy Hook Shooting

Not long after the tragic Sandy Hook Shooting in Newtown, politicians and critics of video games began pointing the finger at the video game industry as a scapegoat for this awful tragedy, in spite of the scientific research that says otherwise.

The NRA and anti-video game politicians have all either blamed video games outright for the Sandy Hook shooting or used it to advance their biases against this form of media. They are wrong for doing so, because there is plenty of evidence to say otherwise.

When you look at the thorough research done on the relationship between violent video games and gun violence, there is no causal relationship between these two things. While these types of video games are associated with an increase in aggressive behavior and temperament in youths who play such games for a prolonged period, the video games are only one of the factors that account for the increase in aggression, according to current scientific research.

Those who seek to place the blame for the Sandy Hook tragedy on video games are either ignorant or have their own agenda for taking this irrational course of action. When the facts are laid out, video games cannot be considered the culprit for this recent mass shooting or any other for that matter.

Blaming Video Games for Gun Violence

The politicians, organizations and presidents - on both sides of the gun control debate - who accuse video games of being the leading cause of the Sandy Hook shooting are united in their belief that there is a strong link between the gun violence perpetrated in Connecticut and the violence portrayed in video games.

Senator Joesph Lieberman, a long time critic of the video game industry, was among the first to point the finger at violent video games in the wake of the mass shooting at Newtown. He had this to say to Fox News on the "cause and effect" of playing violent video games:

          

When Senator Lieberman appeared on C-SPAN, he went further by saying that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, was under the spell of video games when he committed his heinous crime. Lieberman said this about the effect of video games: "Very often, these young men have had an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture, particularly violent video games, and then they obtain guns and become not just troubled young men but mass murderers" - a statement based on "rumors" he heard. 

The NRA also followed suit. During the NRA press conference on the Sandy Hook shooting, Wayne LaPierre openly blamed violent video games as the cause of the gruesome shooting. He attacked the video game industry by saying that "[t]here exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people."

LaPierre went on to single out Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, and Bulletstorm as some of the primary culprits for the Sandy Hook shooting. Ironically, the NRA released a video game involving guns and target practice not long after LaPierre blamed video games for the Sandy Hook shooting.

During the unveiling of his executive orders on gun control, President Obama showed that he was not above the misguided act of associating video games and gun violence, despite the lack of a strong connection.

In both his announcement and the executive summary of his gun control plan, Obama advocated studying the "cause and prevention of gun violence" alongside the "impact of violent media images and video games." By putting these two things together, the president has implied that the two issues are connected on a more or less equal basis.

The problem with the association between gun violence is that despite the confidence and the good intentions of some of these scapegoaters, none of these parties have any proof of what they are saying, or at least not in the proper context. We have studies that say video games are not to blame.

Why Scapegoating Video Games is Wrong

It is wrong to scapegoat video games for the tragedy in Newtown, CT, because there is no direct link between violence in video games and the actions of Adam Lanza. Furthermore, video games as a form of free speech are protected under the U.S. Constitution, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2011. Most importantly, the scientific research on the relationship between violent video games and real life violence shows that the games are only one of many factors in the aggression expressed by youth who play video games for prolonged periods.

This situation riles up a lot of video gamers, including this Youtuber, who mad a reply to the NRA:

The best evidence for why video games are not to blame for gun violence comes from a government study conducted in the down under. The Australian Justice Department conducted an comprehensive study on the impact of violent video games in 2010 and published a report of their findings based on a careful review of scientific studies on the matter at hand. The study conducted a literature review of a large number of studies, from all over the world, on the link between violent video games and real life acts of aggression - including many studies conducted by American scientists.

Regardless of where they stand, all the researchers acknowledge that video games only have a correlative relationship with aggressive behavior exhibited by gamers and that other factors, such as preexisting or natural aggressive personality, family and peer influence, and socio-economic status are equally important factors in explaining the aggressive behavior. They also stress that the relationship is not causal, or at least not alone in being a factor in increased aggression.

It's important to note that "aggression" is highly controversial subject in the scientific world, because the parameters of this social behavior "is imprecisely defined and measured using unstandardised tests which may not apply in the real world."

Furthermore, many scientists have noted that "the accumulating evidence for [the] effects [of violent video games] was 'provided largely by researchers keen to demonstrate the games undesirable effects.'" Dr. Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University, one of the leading critics of these "biased" researchers, has studied their work and concluded that these studies frequently fail to control their studies for the alternative explanations for aggression exhibited by gamers, including those in the aforementioned list of factors.

Ferguson also had a pointed example of why researchers who argue that video games cause aggression do not have a strong case:

"People point out all the time that Japan is saturated with violent media, probably more, if anything, than the United States. They've got the hentai, the sexualized violence, and all that kind of stuff, and yet they're a very low violent crime society. So the argument is if violent media causes aggressiveness, how come it's not doing it in Japan? And of course the argument has always been about the violent crime rate."

The science is clear about the critical points. Violent video games are connected to aggressive behavior, but it cannot be and should not be considered the main culprit for gun violence. There are a host of factors that - including mental health, socioeconomic factors, and the community one lives in - which account for individual gamers that act out violence. At best, the relationship is only correlative and not causal meaning that video games constitute a peripheral influence on people's behavior.

Why do we ignore science? Chris Mooney gives an excellent answer to this age old question:

"[Human beings are] not driven only by emotions, of course — we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower — and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about."

In other words, once we calm down, most of us can be more rational about the issues. Once we consider rational perspectives, as offered in the aforementioned scientific studies, we realize that video games cannot be blamed or associated to any significant degree with gun violence.

The evidence for a strong link between video games and gun violence does not exist despite multiple comprehensive studies. Therefore, our leaders need to stop unfairly scapegoating video games in response to gun violence.

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