Do violent movies make kids more likely to commit acts of violence? It’s a debate that’s gone on since at least Columbine, though I seem to remember people claiming a link for far longer. The idea is that people who watch violence become conditioned and are far more likely to become violent themselves.
Now, there’s apparently been a study that claims to have found a link between violent films and gun use by kids.
New research published in JAMA Pediatrics, shows that kids who watched a short movie with guns were more likely to pull the trigger on a real (unloaded) gun following the film compared to kids who watched a movie without guns.
The researchers, from Ohio State University and Wittenberg University, recruited 104 kids aged eight to 12 and randomly assigned them into pairs to watch a 20-minute PG film clip. Half the kids saw a clip with guns and violence, and half did not.
The kids were then allowed to play in a room full of toys which included Legos, Nerf guns, games like checkers, and a real 0.38-caliber handgun. The gun had been disabled so it could not shoot, and a sensor was installed to calculate the number of times the kids pulled the trigger. The gun was in a drawer, so the children had to find it. They had 20 minutes to play and were recorded.
“The results from this experiment suggest that exposure to gun violence in movies increases interest in guns in the real world,” the authors wrote. They noted that the movies were PG rated, and not R, meaning the effects “might be greater with newer films containing more graphic gun violence.”
While it feels intuitive that watching a movie with gun violence would desensitize kids to the guns themselves, or the effect they have when used, the study was unique in trying to test that, using various controls including sex, age, trait aggressiveness, exposure to violent media, interest in guns, and number of guns at home.
They let a kid watch a violent movie, then did the one thing every gun-owning parent knows not to do and leaves the kid alone with an unsecured firearm? Yeah…can’t imagine why the study found what it did.
Look, when I was a kid, I watched Conan, then immediately went outside, picked up a stick and pretended to be Conan. Kids’ play is often influenced by their entertainment media. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking science here. It’s something almost everyone already knew from something called “childhood.”
However, they also ignore a couple of key points here.
Yes, the child pulled the trigger, but there was no mention of whether these children had ever been briefed on gun safety, for example. There’s no mention of any instruction regarding firearms, such as telling an adult if they found one. Nothing.
In other words, they created a recipe for disaster, and while they had a non-functional firearm, they did the one thing that no self-respecting gun owner does. They left a child in an unattended room with a firearm, particularly with little to no instruction on what to do if they find a firearm.
While I get that the kids who didn’t see the violent film didn’t have that issue, so what? Kids are more likely to emulate the media they just watched, as I already mentioned. Had the violent film had swords and axes instead of guns, would they have played with the pistol? Probably not.
As a result, the kids who didn’t watch the violent movie–there no mention of just what they watched–were less likely to emulate something they didn’t see.
Without a doubt, though, there is something we should take away from this study, and that’s the importance of firearm education. There’s no information stating these kids got any kind of gun safety training at any point in their lives. None. How would that have changed the study’s results?