In yet another search for answers as to why America has suffered a mass shooting again, it’s easy to fall back on the heartless Wayne LaPierre and the folks at the National Rifle Association.
It’s true that the man and woman from San Bernardino could be characterized as domestic terrorists – one a U.S. citizen from Illinois. They were radicalized Islamists, but they didn’t fly their weapons in from Pakistan. They bought their guns and ammo right here in America.
But there is something deeper than ready access to the assault rifles and ammunition. Our culture glorifies shooting people, through video games, television programs and movies. Period.
Raising teenage boys and having dozens of them in my house meant that there were a lot of PlayStation 2 and 3 and Xbox tournaments. Now, all of these boys have grown up to be nonviolent, fine young men. The games didn’t lead to any of them shooting up a mall or school.
But I do think that these games could lead other kids, on the netherworld border of sanity and reality, in a different direction.
If you have watched or played these video games, you see that a main objective is to blow people’s heads off. Game manufacturers have tastefully provided a control where one can “turn down” the blood shown on screen.
We didn’t do that with Super Mario Brothers or Ms. Pac-Man.
Cable television is filled with movies glorifying the ease with which one could solve a dispute with a large weapon. And a former California governor pulled the trigger once or twice on the big screen and made millions of dollars doing so. Recall that he was an in-law of the Kennedy family, which suffered unimaginable tragedy and pain at the end of the barrels of real guns.
You can’t channel surf for more than a minute or two without seeing someone getting shot or brandishing a weapon. Gun violence is a big entertainment staple, and we happily pay them to show us carnage 24/7/365.
According to an article about children’s exposure to media violence published in the November 2009 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The average young person will have viewed an estimated 200,000 acts of violence on television alone.” Furthermore, “children in grades 4 through 8 preferentially choose video games that award points for violence against others, and 7 of 10 children in grades 4 through 12 report playing M-rated (mature) games, with 78 percent of boys reporting owning M-rated games.”
The report notes that “the more realistically the violence is portrayed, the greater the likelihood it will be tolerated and learned.” The study also found that players in the role of the aggressor are rewarded “successful violent behavior.”
America has always lived in a dangerous world and been exposed to violent cultures. But access to this violence was slower. Case in point: the Zapruder film, which showed in shockingly graphic detail the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was not shown on national television until 1975, 12 years after the murder.
I grew up during the Vietnam War. My cousin was an Army lieutenant there. We saw body bags and dead soldiers on TV constantly. Contrast that with the U.S. media’s handling of our soldiers in World War II: Americans at home never saw a dead soldier until 1943, when photos first appeared in the pages of Life magazine. It was hugely controversial at the time.
In San Bernardino, in Roseburg, in Charleston, in Aurora, in Newtown and in dozens of other now-familiar cities and towns that have experienced gun tragedies, easy access to military assault weapons is an obvious issue.
But it’s only one of them.