Recently, a shooting at a Florida high school led to 17 people losing their lives when a former student attacked the school with an assault rifle. In the aftermath of this tragedy, people are looking for changes in policies to prevent things like this from happening again in the future. Despite all of this, President Trump is looking for a scapegoat, and he has openly blamed video games as the cause of acts of violence such as this.
“I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” Trump said during a White House meeting on school safety on February 22, 2018. And you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies, and they’re so violent. And yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved, and maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”
Unfortunately, the president’s logic is far off from what studies have shown. Studies that have taken place over the past few decades haven’t indicated any real connections between violence in video games and extreme violent behaviors.
Back in 2005, the state of California made an effort to ban the sale of video games to minors. This law was rejected by the Supreme Court six years later. The ruling that the Supreme Court made read, “California’s claim that ‘interactive’ video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive.” The Supreme Court also stated that just like books and other forms of media, video games are protected under the First Amendment.
In 2015, the American Psychological Association conducted an extremely in-depth study into the impact that video games have on aggression. The study showed that while video games did have a slight impact on aggression, there was insufficient evidence to link video games to delinquency, criminal violence, or neurological and physiological changes.
According to a report by the APA, “All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence. This distinction is important for understanding this research literature, for considering the implications of the research, and for interpreting popular press accounts of the research and its applicability to societal events.”
The overall consensus is that violent and aggressive behaviors are typically the result of various accumulated risk factors. Violence in media can contribute to these risk factors, but it’s a complete oversimplification to try and say that is the root cause of behaviors such as mass shootings, like the recent shooting in Florida. The truth is, there is no specific cause for these kinds of behaviors. There will never be one thing we can blame, as much as politics may try to find the scapegoat.
Despite the constant resurrection of the “do violent video games play part in violent behavior” debate, the U.S Congress doesn’t allow the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to study gun violence as a public health issue. Due to something called the “Dickey Amendment”, which was an amendment to the constitution passed 22 years ago, the CDC is not allowed to fund gun-related research, or use any money to “advocate or promote gun control.”
Most politicians, even Trump, are hesitant to push for interventions that would have a higher impact, such as stricter gun laws. This is most likely due to the fear of losing funding from large groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA). Due to overall low popularity numbers, it would be a relatively risky play to upset them.
If our representatives are unable to pass any sort of legislation that could potentially stop or lower the risk of these shootings, they could at least stop trying to find any sort of scapegoat and stay out of the way of researchers trying to better understand these trends and situations. Constant blame of video games for tragedies such as school shootings and other violent acts only muddies the waters and misinforms the public.