- Two mass shootings over the weekend – in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio – claimed the lives of 31 people. Dozens more were injured.
- In the wake of the latest mass shootings, which are part of an ongoing crisis in the United States, President Trump pointed to everything but guns as the root of the problem. One major culprit he cited: “Gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
- But pointing to violent video games as a cause of gun violence is an intentional distraction from the root cause of gun violence: guns.
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On Saturday, a man with a gun in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store took the lives of 22 people.
The following day, a man with a gun in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people – including his sister – in another mass shooting.
Between the two shootings, 31 lives were taken and dozens of people were injured. These are just the latest instances of mass shootings in the United States, which happen at an alarmingly frequent rate.
On Monday, when President Trump addressed the nation, he once again claimed that “gruesome and grisly video games,” among other forms of entertainment available all over the world, are to blame for the mass shootings that are endemic in American culture.
That claim continues to lack evidence backing it up, and is little more than a distraction – here’s why:
Where did all this start? Let’s go way back to 1999.
Back in April 1999, two young men with guns went to their high school in Colorado and killed 13 people. It was a horrific tragedy, and one that was still new in American culture at the time.
In the weeks following, what came to be known as the “Columbine High School Massacre” was dissected by the media and politicians. The two gunmen quickly became the focus of that dissection.
What could have driven these two young men to perpetrate such a horrific act? Was it society? Their upbringing? Their surprisingly easy access to weapons capable of mass murder?
No – it was decided that their interest in the musician Marilyn Manson, their proclivity for black clothing, and their penchant for playing violent video games were to blame.
If that sounds ridiculous to you, that’s because it’s ridiculous.
There is a long history of claims that playing violent video games leads to real-life violence. It has been proven false — repeatedly — yet politicians continue to claim a connection that doesn’t exist.
Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, and even before that, researchers have been studying the effects of playing violent video games. What they have found is simply put: Playing violent video games doesn’t lead to real-life violent acts.
“Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behaviour problems, are less violent and score better on standardised tests,” Christopher J. Ferguson, a psychology professor at Texas A&M International University, wrote in the science journal Review of General Psychology back in 2010. “Violent video games have not created the generation of problem youth so often feared.”
In 2017, the American Psychological Association outright warned against journalists and lawmakers connecting real-life violence with video-game violence:
“Journalists and policy makers do their constituencies a disservice in cases where they link acts of real-world violence with the perpetrators’ exposure to violent video games or other violent media. There’s little scientific evidence to support the connection, and it may distract us from addressing those issues that we know contribute to real-world violence.”
When the APA looked at various studies of violent video games and whether playing them had any relation to aggressive acts, it found “scant evidence … that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”
Speaking to the New York Times this week, Ferguson, now a psychology professor at Stetson University, summed up the data succinctly: “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive. Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
People all over the world play violent video games, yet mass shootings occur in the US far more regularly and in much greater numbers than anywhere else in the world.
Video games are a global business, and violent video games are sold the world over.
Every year, when a big new “Call of Duty” game comes out, it comes out all over the world. The same could be said for hundreds, if not thousands, of other games, many of which contain violent acts and/or imagery.
Yet, despite the increasing popularity of video games on a global scale, only the United States has seen a vast increase in mass shootings.
Look no further than the helpful chart above from Vox for an illustration, in bar chart form, of why the argument that violent video games cause real-life violence is false.
Talking about video games in the wake of a mass shooting is a diversion tactic intended to distract from the real issue: guns.
Talking about gun regulation is poison for American politicians, and doubly so if you’re a Republican politician.
No matter what happens – whether 31 people are killed in two mass shootings over a summer weekend, or 17 people are killed by a student with a semi-automatic rifle in a Florida high school, or 26 people are killed in a Connecticut elementary school (20 of which were children between the ages of 6 and 7) – almost nothing changes.
Despite dozens of mass shootings since Trump became president in January 2017, next to no new gun regulations have been imposed (the Trump administration did ban bump stocks in late 2018 – a gun attachment that turns semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons – and the ban went into effect federally in early 2019).
Instead, politicians stick to talking points that are agreeable for everyone: Thoughts and prayers are offered, discussion of mental health and violent video games resurfaces, and, eventually, conversation turns back to other issues.
But make no mistake: It’s a distraction, and one that politicians are quite aware they are using.
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