On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first high profile hearing on gun violence in years, bringing in Gabby Giffords and the president of the NRA to both testify on the need for more (or less) gun control.
Unfortunately, rather than address the issue of gun violence seriously, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decided to use his opening statement instead to attempt a misinformed redirection of blame from the issue at hand (dangerous weapons being used to kill real people) to video games and entertainment (pixels on a screen scaring old people).
Now, look, I get it.
Chuck Grassley isn’t the hippest cat on the block. He probably thinks a video game is the latest Pentagon training tool in our never-ending race with “the Commies.” But his ignorance of the video game industry doesn’t excuse an eye-crossingly stupid view of a major part of our culture and economy.
According to a recent study, 91% of kids aged 2-17 play video games. That number is up 9% from 2009. Among the total population, over 180 million Americans play video games, with over 25% of gamers being over age 50. Video games are a booming market, pulling in nearly $60 billion globally in 2010, with an average annual rate of growth expected to remain steady between seven and eight percent for years to come.
Numerous studies have shown the benefits of playing video games ... from enhanced motor skills to improved eye sight, pain relief, and faster decision-making. Most importantly, there has never been a single scientific study showing that video games lead to gun violence. Not one. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
In fact, about the only correlation we can draw is that as more and more violent video games have been made and sold, actual crime rates have decreased.
I realize that facts are rarely more than an inconvenience for politicians dead set on protecting their campaign funders. It certainly hasn’t stopped Grassley from joining the chorus of Republicans blaming video games for the recent string of mass murders (instead of, you know, whackadoodles with guns).
Watch Republican Senator Lamar Alexander call video games "a bigger problem than guns."
In today’s hearing Grassley went as far as to shamelessly cite the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist who killed 77 and wounded 242 people attending a Worker's Youth League meeting in Norway, to show how video games breed mass murderers. Grassley said that video games could be used as mass killing training simulators and asked “where is the artistic value of shooting innocent victims?”
It would be almost heart-warming, in a “grandpa doesn’t know what he’s talking about” kind of way, to watch Grassley attempt to claim that it’s “those darned kids with their Pokemons” that are the cause of a string of mass murders, rather than the millions of guns sold annually with no background check.
It would be, that is, if he wasn’t a United States Senator.
Unfortunately, Grassley wields a pretty big political club. As the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley will have a great deal of say in what, if any, legislation makes its way out of the committee for a vote.
Organizations on the right and left sides of the spectrum have tried to censor violent video games over the last several years. Most notably, California’s attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to children was declared an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court in 2011. The Justices found no compelling evidence suggesting that violent video games in any way affected children and noted that while the state might have an interest in protecting children from harm “that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”
The reality is that video games are simply being trotted out in a naked attempt to turn the conversation away from guns. No reasonable person under the age of 30 actually believes video games make you violent anymore than having a driver’s license makes you a NASCAR driver. Unfortunately, certain politicians are so committed to protecting the interests of gun manufacturers that they will gladly propose blatant violations of the First Amendment in an effort to steer the conversation away from their campaign’s cash cow.
This unapologetic attempt to scapegoat an entire industry is unacceptable, ignorant, and needs to be called out for what it is – a big pile of crap.
If Chuck Grassley wants to stop gun crime while protecting Second Amendment rights, he should spend his time focusing on actual causes of gun crime rather than attempting to blame World of Warcraft for some crackpot deciding to take an AR-15 to an elementary school classroom.