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Hollywood has gotten a lot of mileage out of the old “I’ll create a diversion” trope. Unfortunately, even our silver-screen heroes don’t come close to Washington when it comes to misdirection tactics. Take, for example, President Donald Trump’s recent revisiting of violent video games as the reason for America’s growing mass shooting problem.
February’s assault on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida marks the most recent conflagration in a year that has already seen 34 mass shootings in the United States. Demands for better gun control have reached a fever pitch. After posturing as though it might take action, Trump’s administration is using the oldest trick in the book to direct attention away from the real matter at hand. How? They’re blaming video games.
Americans Clamor for Gun Control
Students across the United States organised a nationwide walkout on March 14th, determined to make their voices heard to the politicians who promise results but have continuously failed to deliver.
President Trump attempted to appease the American public with an executive order asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ban the “bump stocks” some shooters have used to transform semi-automatic assault rifles into near full-blown machine guns. However, the change has not yet gone into effect.
Florida’s governor Rick Scott has made perhaps more progress than any politician on the matter. He chose to combat gun violence at the state level by passing funding for mental health, a ban on bump stocks and additional provisions to help law enforcement seize weapons from those deemed mentally unfit. But at the federal level, Trump is attempting to shift focus with a meeting held in early March on the topic of violence in video games.
Same Old Song and Dance
To be back in this position again is agonising — not because video games aren’t violent, but because of the government’s unwillingness to confront its demons in the NRA and conservative second-amendment supporters.
Instead, the Trump Administration chooses to attack video game producers who have been scrutinized since the early 1990s. At Trump’s meeting — which saw only mediocre attendance from members of Congress — there was a lot of chastising toward the video game community, but no indication that regulations on video game content would change.
Video games already use a multi-tiered rating system to communicate when content might not be appropriate for younger audiences. The U.S. Constitution protects video game makers’ rights to create whatever content they want — and by the way, video game makers are familiar with the multiple scientific studies that have come forward exonerating them from blame that should be directed at the gun lobby.
It’s true that many video games portray violent content, and in recent years, advances in technology have made these games more immersive than ever. Where video games lie on the spectrum of contributors to incidents like Parkland, however, is trivial compared to the weapons themselves.
Just the Facts
Violence in pop culture has been around long before video games. In television and movies, America’s youth have had access to live-action depictions of violence and killing dating back to the 1950s and 60s. In 2005, with violent games well-ingrained in American youth culture, Professor Henry Jenkins of USC told PBS that juvenile crime was at a 30-year low.
In Japan, video games are even more popular than they are in the US. According to gaming market research company NewZoo, about 60 percent of the population of Japan played video games in 2016. However, the country made it through the year with close to zero gun deaths. In 2014, Japan had a total of six gun deaths, homicides alone in the US contributed 8,124 casualties.
To account for the larger U.S. population, you can compare the difference in US gun deaths per capita. That number as of 2014 is between 10 and 11 in the United States. No other western democracy comes close. Canada stands at two as of 2011. The United Kingdom averages less than one (2013), and Japan comes in at zero (2013).
In all of these places, people have access to violent video games. To reiterate, they are more popular in Japan than they are in the United States. It begs the question then: What have these countries done differently to eliminate the problem of their people being brutally killed at the hands of an armed assailant? It’s simple. They have gun control.
Don’t Buy That the U.S. Is “Different”
Rampant access to guns begets gun violence. If you don’t believe that, consider the fact that nearly half of all civilian-owned firearms reside in the United States. Other countries know that guns are dangerous, so they don’t make them easy to get!
And yet, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a group that comprises 1.5% of Americans, continues to push a selfish agenda that basically boils down to “my hobby is more important than human lives.”
The NRA’s puppeteering of the government has never been so brazenly put on display as it is now, and yet without the help of the federal government, many Americans feel powerless to bring about change in a system they call a democracy.
The Value of Human Life
These zealots who cling to their guns can make excuses, blame video games or claim that the government is plotting against them, but these are petty diversions.
In a 2013 opinion piece for CNN, Brad Bushman presented an argument for better control over violent games because there was evidence that gunmen from several mass shootings had played them. It’s a shaky argument at best, but Bushman ends the piece with the words “we should do all we can to make violent rampages like the one in Washington less likely, even if we can’t stop them entirely.”
Now, Brad, please explain how anyone in their right mind can apply that logic to video games and not guns after 11,000 people died last year? How many of them were killed by video games?