NRA Execute Vice President Wayne LaPierre has a problem on his hands right now. You see, the right-to-bear-arms crowd’s PR department is on the NRA’s heels. Despite incomplete data for overall gun homicide and non-fatal assault in the last two years (the most recent CDC numbers are from 2010, but here’s a handy fact sheet from FactCheck.org), 2012 was an unusual year for attempted and successful shooting massacres. These are armed shooters – who may not even have a personal vendetta against their victims – taking guns into crowded places with the intent to rack up as high a body count as possible.
People are understandably appalled and angry. The media has turned Hype Mode up to 11. Never in recent memory has gun control had more emotional momentum. The last time gun control got this much of a spotlight, Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. It expired, largely unnoticed, in 2004. Now something might actually change. But LaPierre’s semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine is his God-given, inalienable right! Time to take action. If gun control advocates have gained the upper hand because of recent events, then what is needed–as always–is a shift in the narrative.
Enter video games.
The NRA was pretty tight-lipped when pressed for a statement about of the sixteen mass shootings to happen in the USA in 2012; their usual responses attempt to rally their faithful against what they think will be a knee-jerk reaction on their Second Amendment rights. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT can therefore be considered a tipping point of sorts. The organization took a week to craft their message, and called a press conference in Washington DC. There, LaPierre lashed out against “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” citing Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Splatterhouse, and a flash game called Kindergarten Killer before taking shots at movies and music as well. Blame rests on the culture that has been so thoroughly poisoned by the entertainment industry, he reasons, and something should be done.
He’s not the only public figure pointing the finger at video games. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, despite previous comments in favor of considering new gun regulations, later clarified that a more comprehensive approach – including considering entertainment media – is needed. Outgoing Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman criticized “an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture, particularly violent video games.” West Virginia’s other senator, Jay Rockefeller, introduced a bill commissioning a study on the impact of violent video games on children.
Predictably, Fox News has chimed in about the sure-fire link between violent video games and violent behavior, citing psychologist Dr. Brad Bushman. Other opinioneers roll their eyes about the same sort of moral panic the 1950s had about Batman. Vice President Joe Biden met with video game industry leaders as part of a lead-up to a Sandy Hook task force. Interestingly, this meeting was less adversarial than the one he later had with the NRA. Gamasutra writer Nathan Fouts pondered if the industry might actually benefit creatively if violence were eliminated from games. A community group in small-town Connecticut organized a trade-in day for folks to come sell their violent media for gift certificates, and leave the games, movies, and whatever else to be destroyed.
So are games a driving force behind gun violence, or are they a scapegoat for which, to quote GamesIndustry’s Rob Fahey, “The NRA’s finger-pointing has, in effect, left the games industry with a ‘so when did you stop beating your wife?’ question”? Should fans of the video game industry come out defensively, guns blazing? Regardless of the NRA’s greater agenda, does Wayne LaPierre have a point here?
Do violent video games produce violent behavior? Now’s a good time to shed some light on this topic.
Tune in to New Gamer Nation when we take a look at some of the biggest voices in the violent video game debate.