In a national press conference today, National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre spoke in defense of gun ownership rights, urging — after a week of notable NRA silence — that guns were not to blame for the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings that killed 20 children and six adults last week. Rather, LaPierre placed blame for the killings on an American culture of violence — fueled by the video game and movie industries.
So, in LaPierre’s world, if Adam Lanza was playing Master Chief in Halo, what roles did the children play? The teachers? The police? And what “score” did Lanza get?
Incredibly, LaPierre continued, arguing that the mass-arming of our schools is the only defense against gun-related violence in schools.
LaPierre absurd, incoherent remarks have been roundly criticized by gun ownership opponents and proponents, and caused Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to be at a loss for words on MSNBC:
I don’t even know where to begin. As a supporter of the Second Amendment and a supporter of the NRA — even though I’m not a member of the NRA — I just found it very haunting and very disturbing that our country now is talking about arming our teachers and our principals in classrooms.
LaPierre also criticized the media for propagating misinformation about firearms, such as incorrectly calling semi-automatic rifles “machine guns” and misleadingly characterizing the Bushmaster 223 rifle used by Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Elementary school as a “weapon of war.”
There are data supporting, questioning and rejecting a causal connection between videogames and gun-related violence. In 2006, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reported:
A brain mechanism that may link violent computer games with aggression has been discovered by researchers in the US. The work goes some way towards demonstrating a causal link between the two – rather than a simple association.
Many studies have concluded that people who play violent video games are more aggressive, more likely to commit violent crimes, and less likely to help others. But critics argue these correlations merely prove that violent people gravitate towards violent games, not that games can change behaviour.
Now psychologist Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri-Columbia and colleagues have found that people who play violent video games show diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence, such as gun attacks, but not to other emotionally disturbing pictures, such as those of dead animals, or sick children. And the reduction in response is correlated with aggressive behaviour. (emphasis added)
In 2012, Real Clear Policy gave a more ambiguous reporting of the connection between guns and videogames:
The U.S. is an outlier in gun-related murders, even though we’re not exceptional in how many video games we play. If virtual violence caused real violence you’d expect to see some kind of a relationship between the two, but in this graph there isn’t much of one at all.
At the Incidental Economist, Aaron Carroll digs up more evidence that there isn’t a link between gaming and violence, drawing on a few different sources.
It’s possible that depictions of violence or brutality in video games lead to aggressive behavior. Even more likely, it’s easy to believe that video games, not necessarily violent ones, drive social isolation and other undesirable behaviors among serious gamers.
On the other hand, Ars Technica reported in 2012 that:
Max Fisher at The Washington Post helpfully compiled a graph mapping the per-capita spending on video games in the top ten national markets on one axis and the per-capita gun-related murders in those countries on the other. Far from showing a strong link between the two statistics, the graph actually shows a small negative correlation—as video game spending goes up, gun-related murders tend to go down.
LaPierre argued that future school shootings can be prevented by having armed security guards monitor and protect the schools. Analogizing schools to the Office of the President, banks, and government buildings, LaPierre warned that children are left unprotected from predatory violence even as local governments indirectly tout school buildings as zones were such violence cannot be effectively resisted. LaPierre said:
Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.
A copy of LaPierre’s full remarks can be found here.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings last Friday, President Obama and others have spoken on the potential need for tighter gun controls, “assault weapon” bans, ammunition restrictions, background checks and mental competency tests as means to help protect school children and the public at large from gun-related violence. Earlier this week, President Obama appointed Vice-President Joe Biden to lead a gun violence task force that is scheduled to provide specific proposals addressing and reducing gun-related violence. Vice-President Biden sponsored the 356 page 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act while a Delaware Senator.
LaPierre did not address the President’s formation of the task force, nor did he speak to the efficacy of the proposed gun safety measures. Instead, LaPierre urged that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun.” LaPierre made similar remarks following the 2007 Virginia Tech slayings in Blacksburg, Virginia, which killed 32 and injured 17.