Washington tried (and failed) to enact any new gun legislation in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Having failed at something he promised to get done, President Donald Trump will turn his sights away from real guns and onto the imagined variety, convening a sort of summit at the White House about violence in the media on Thursday.
It bears mentioning here that his two school safety meetings last month, despite many promises, yielded exactly zero pieces of legislation. The meeting today is likely to yield about as much.
But violent media is clearly something about which the President feels strongly and he’s mentioned his interactions with his own son in expressing his concern about it.
At two previous White House meetings on school safety, he mentioned the issue.
Here’s what Trump told Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, at a meeting February 22, a little more than a week after the shooting.
“We have to look at the Internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds, and their minds are being formed. And we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies, 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.
“And, you know, you get into a whole very complicated, very big deal. But the fact is that you are having movies come out that are so violent, with the killing and everything else, that maybe that’s another thing we’re going to have to discuss. And a lot of people are saying it, you have these movies today where you can go and have a child see the movie, and yet it’s so violent and so disgusting. So we may have to talk about that also.”
And here’s what he said six days later, on February 28, drawing in his own personal experiences with his 11-year-old son, Barron, after comments from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee.
“The video games, the movies, the Internet stuff is so violent. It’s so incredible. I see it. I get to see things that you wouldn’t be — you’d be amazed at. I have a young — very young son, who — I look at some of the things he’s watching, and I say, how is that possible? And this is what kids are watching. And I think you maybe have to take a look at it. You know, you rate movies for different things. Maybe you have to also rate them for terror, for what they’re doing and what they’re all about.
“It’s hard to believe that, at least for a percentage — and maybe it’s a small percentage of children — this doesn’t have a negative impact on their thought process. But these things are really violent.”
Truly, any parent’s stomach turns when they see the violent games that aren’t recommended for young children, but are easily accessible in the media today. As CNN’s Dan Merica writes, the White House meeting could turn contentious, since the guest list includes video game CEOs on one side and media watchdogs on the other. Trump has invited Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of the company that makes the game “Grand Theft Auto,” and Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of the parent company that produces games like “Fallout.”
Whether young kids should be interacting with that kind of media is a good element of conversation and debate, but the correlation between violent media and mass shootings is something else entirely.
CNNMoney published an excellent article on the long history of blaming such incidents on violent games. It stretches back to the 1970s and 1990s, when graphics in the games were almost laughably cartoonish compared to the virtual reality of today.
That is to say Trump’s focus on this issue is far from new – and it’s far from just a Republican point of view.
President Barack Obama ordered research into it in 2013 and Hillary Clinton campaigned against it as a senator. A side issue, but related, is explicit lyrics. Remember Tipper Gore?
The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that video game content is free speech, by the way, further complicating any effort there.
And while the American Psychological Association convened a task force that determined a link between violence in media and aggression in kids, it didn’t specifically find a tie to violence, which is another important distinction.
Another piece by CNN Health looks at the available scientific data, where there’s a lot of disagreement, despite the warnings from the APA.
Disagreement is the key word here. If the United States has learned anything from school shootings, it’s that there’s no easy way to solve them. Any gun control legislation that can pass with the necessary bipartisan support is unlikely to do anything specifically to stop the next school shooting – and neither is possible legislation aimed at video games.
The Washington Post in 2012 looked at gun deaths per country in the 10 largest video game markets. In countries that purchase video games, the US was in a different stratosphere when it came to gun deaths, implying the video games weren’t related to the gun deaths. That was a simple study, but pretty effectively drove home the point that curbing easy access to video games might have less of an effect than curbing easy access to guns. And curbing access to guns is not something that Washington is capable of doing.