Back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, which left 31 people dead and dozens more wounded, prompted U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican policymakers to place the blame on a variety of issues — including the claim that gun violence and video games are linked.
It’s a frequently cited correlation, and one that many experts say isn’t backed by research.
During a press conference Monday, Trump called for mental health reform and increased use of the death penalty to prevent further shootings, but also tacked the blame on video games, which according to him harbour a culture that celebrates violence.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” said Trump.
“This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
The claim, which was also voiced by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is wrong, according to some researchers.
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“It’s pretty clear that the things we are talking about, like mass shootings and any kind of serious aggression or violence, is that there is no relationship between violent video games and these types of outcomes,” Stetson University professor Chris Ferguson told Global News.
“We just don’t find evidence that playing action-oriented violent games early in life is predictive of later aggression or reduced pro-social behaviour among kids,” added Ferguson, who cited a study he published.
Richard Lachman, director of Zone Learning for Ryerson University, echoed a similar conclusion, in that while some studies show that some aggressive behaviour has been observed immediately after playing video games, there is nothing pointing to violent actions after playing said video games, which are enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people.
“We’re still looking for some longitudinal studies, but there is no evidence to back up that there’s a direct one-to-one marketing of video games and violence,” said Lachman, who argued it was much more complex issue than just video games causing violence.
The claim, which has been debunked several times since the discussion around it began in 1990s, has historically been a bipartisan issue when brought up in Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans have taken aim at media-induced violence as a factor in some of America’s worst mass shootings, namely at Columbine High School in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007.
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But today, that same bipartisan effort is hardly the case as GOP lawmakers continue to frame violent games as the still-causal factor in mass shootings, despite the flashing evidence against it, in what some say is an attempt to politically detract from the other issues at hand — racial division and gun control laws, according to Ferguson and Lachman.
“You know, the idea is let’s get people, even if people don’t all agree, if they’re all talking about video games and arguing about video games then they’re not exerting energy on, you know, gun and gun-related issues, and other issues that would be more difficult perhaps to discuss or talk about,” said Ferguson.
“So I think it’s only a purposeful political dodge.”
Democrats were quick to jump on Trump’s comments, accusing him of hiding the issue of gun control behind mental health reform and tighter internet monitoring alongside that of the blame placed on video games.
The political divide on the issue became more evident as Democrats weighed in on Trump’s call on Monday for a bipartisan effort to marry both the legislation of stronger background checks for gun ownership to that of tougher immigration laws.
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“Only a racist, driven by fear, could witness what took place this weekend — and instead of standing up to hatred, side with a mass murderer’s call to make our country more white. We are so much better than this president,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said to Reuters.
In 2018, the Trump administration convened during a school safety commission following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and another 17 injured. The conclusion was that there wasn’t much in the way of video games being a factor in the perpetration of violent acts.
It was an outcome which Ferguson, who testified in that same commission, said contradicts Trump’s current opinion on video games now despite his own administration’s previous findings on it.
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— With files from Reuters