In the aftermath of the mass shootings in Phoenix, Aurora and Newtown, is popular culture to blame for gun violence? At Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on a proposed Assault Weapons Ban, ranking member Chuck Grassley repeated the Republican talking-point that “[v]iolent video games that encourage the killing of innocent people for sport are of deep concern.”
He was echoing the comments of Wayne LaPierre, the chief spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. In his first post-Sandy Hook press conference, LaPierre branded the media and their corporate owners as “silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators” and accused them of concealing a “dirty little truth” about their incitement to gun violence.
“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. [It does so t]hrough vicious, violent video games. . , blood-soaked slasher films. . . and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it ‘entertainment.’ ”
But the NRA is the lobbyist for the nation’s gun manufacturers, so Mr. LaPierre has a vested interest in deflecting blame away from the more obvious culprit for gun violence: the widespread availability and increasingly lethality of guns.
It’s the guns
Our country has almost as many guns as we do citizens. It is estimated that there are over 270 million guns in the United States. That equates to 88.8 guns for every 100 people, placing America number one in the world for the rate of gun ownership. And increasingly, these are automatic guns, with multiple rounds, that may be purchased without a waiting period.
It is hard to ignore evidence of the direct link between easy public access to powerful weaponry and gun violence. As Piers Morgan pointed out, the comparison of the number of gun deaths in Great Britain, which has adopted strict gun control laws, and the United States, which has let them lapse, is very stark. In 2010, the U.S. had 31,672 gun-related deaths while the U.K. (which has only 5 guns for every 100 people) had only 155.
Media are not the prime culprits
If there were a direct cause and effect between virtual violence in popular culture and acting out those depictions in real world violence, then county-by-country statistics would show a correlation between media violence and actual crime. But they don’t. Compare the United States to Japan, the latter of which, if anything, has a more violent popular culture than America. Think Godzilla motion pictures and violent ninja video games. Yet the Japanese can distinguish between the real and imaginary worlds and had only 11 firearm-related homicides for the last year they were reported in 2008.
Japan has only 0.6 guns per 100 people, so the comparison with the U.S. isn’t fair. As an experiment, we would have to proliferate an additional 110 million guns to Japanese citizens and then wait and see if their rate of gun violence increased. Anyone want to take odds on how that experiment might turn out?
If you listen to Mr. LaPierre, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” thus the need to arm school teachers, mall guards and, well, everyone. But here’s a thought: if there were fewer “bad guys” with access to guns, there wouldn’t need to be as many “good guys” with guns to stop them. And wasn’t Christopher Dorner a “good guy with a gun” before he became a “bad guy with a gun”?
The social science clearly shows that one’s ownership of a gun highly increases the chance that one, or someone in one’s household, will become the victim of gun violence, especially since we had over 19,000 gun-related suicides in this country the year before last.
The same day as the Sandy Hook massacre, another school attack was widely reported, but this one was in Central China. A local villager stabbed 22 grade school children, who were all treated and released at a local hospital. Because the villager’s weapon of choice was a knife, and not a gun, there were no deaths in the incident in China that day. In Connecticut, where Adam Lanza’s weapons of choice were one semi-automatic rifle with high capacity 30 round clips and two handguns, there were 20 deaths.
You can blame popular culture for Adam Lanza’s alienation and violent propensities. You can blame his school for lack of security. But without Mrs. Lanza’s legal purchase of a rifle and handguns to which her son helped himself, there would not have been a massacre that day in America.