Evan: Guns and the Video Game Blame

Can Video Games Be Blamed for Gun Violence? (AP)

The left and right flanks of Congress rarely agree on anything, especially matters related to gun regulation. The heated rhetoric on both sides of the gun debate might give the impression that Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on any measures that would seek to curb gun violence.

Strangely, however, we find ourselves in a political landscape in which polar opposites such as Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) discovered a common enemy: video games. Some context might serve to illustrate how the gun debate has made for such odd bedfellows.

The National Rifle Association drew the ire of gun control advocates for its response to the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The organization’s conspicuous silence in the aftermath of the tragedy ended with a highly publicized press conference featuring the NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre.

He placed the blame for shooting massacres on violence in media, lax security in schools, and the lack of a national database of the mentally ill. The left excoriated LaPierre for suggesting that Congress put a police officer in every school and for saying “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Gun violence in America is a sensitive, emotional issue, and it is understandable that Americans demand answers and solutions from their leaders. Unfortunately, the hectic, chaotic nature of the gun debate has led politicians to adopt policies that range from impractical to insane.

LaPierre calls for a national database of the mentally ill, but dismisses a national gun registry as an invasion of privacy.  Meanwhile, there are Democrats pushing legislation to ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, which would do nothing to address the millions already in circulation. Buy-back programs are costly, and sending police door-to-door to confiscate these weapons is a ridiculous notion.

The NRA and gun control advocates share scarce common ground, and Congress is unlikely to pass any legislation that goes beyond expanding background checks. The Senate has pigeonholed any serious attempt to ban assault weapons thus far, so legislators have turned their sights on video games, which are a menace far more dangerous than a 30-round ammunition clip

As a longtime champion of stricter gun laws, it might seem strange that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has taken up the NRA’s call to scrutinize the video game industry.  She recently told an audience in San Francisco that video games play “a very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that.”

Feinstein didn’t merely suggest that the industry take voluntary steps to reduce the violence in content. “If Sandy hook doesn’t do it, if the knowledge of the video games this young man played doesn’t, then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future.”

She may have couched it in speculative language, but Feinstein left the door open to government action against an industry that bears no responsibility for the atrocities committed by the shooter Adam Lanza. The media have given undue attention to the fact that this murderer played Call of Duty, which is a wildly popular war-themed video game.

The newest incarnation of the series sold more than seven million copies in the month it was released. Lanza was just one of the countless individuals who played this game on a regular basis. How many of the millions who purchased this game went on to massacre a slew of innocent school children and teachers?

This is a perfect example of Congress trying to create a solution in search of a problem. There is absolutely no conclusive evidence that playing violent video games could ever lead to the kind of real-life carnage experienced by the victims in Newtown. Despite that, a majority of Americans believe there is a link between video games and gun violence.

Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on gun registries, waiting periods, assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or any of the facets of the gun debate that are actually important. But prominent members of both parties have found the courage to scapegoat a $60 billion industry that is responsible for an explosion of economic growth and artistic creativity.

The NRA and advocates of gun rights are fearful that an overreaching government seeks to undermine Americans’ right to bear arms. Citizens can and should do everything in their power to protect their Constitutional rights. However, Wayne LaPierre and some Republicans in Congress seem to have no qualms about squashing the First Amendment in order to protect the Second.

Senators talk about taking action against the video game industry as if any legislation wouldn’t be a grievous affront to free speech. Should artists be held responsible for those who are inspired to violence by their vivid depictions of carnage and gore? Should singers bear responsibility for the actions of killers who were roused by their lyrics? Should we censor any websites and books that might have the potential to incite gun violence?

Empirical data contradict the outlandish claims made by politicians who seek to score points with the public by dumping on video games. Legislators’ willingness to potentially undermine free speech in an attempt to curb gun violence is emblematic of their blind impulsiveness.

The relative young age of the video game industry has left it vulnerable to the whims of the self-important, technologically ignorant grandstanders that populate the Beltway. Citizens should make every effort to avoid lending their support to “solutions” that serve as nothing more than brainless window-dressing.