"Screen violence," access to guns blamed for school shooting

"Screen violence," access to guns blamed for school shooting
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The shooting at a Newport News elementary school has rattled the community and, to some extent, the nation. While we don’t have wall-to-wall reporting on this, there are a lot of people reading and following this story.

What many are wondering is just how something like this happened. How did a six-year-old kid come to shoot his teacher?

When there are people asking questions, there will always be people ready to provide answers. And according to some supposed experts, they know what happened in Virginia.

Many other aspects of the incident have yet to be established — not least, the likely many factors that resulted in the boy shooting his teacher. But as experts in media use and its connections to violence, we have reported some disturbing findings about how children are influenced by gun violence depicted in media like television, movies and video games. What makes this more troubling is the fact that millions of children in the U.S. have easy access to firearms in their homes, increasing the risk of gun deaths, including suicides.

The effect of media violence on children

Research has shown that the depiction of gun violence is increasing in both movies and on TV. Our research found that acts of gun violence in PG-13 movies has nearly tripled in the 30 years since the rating was introduced in 1984. And PG-13 movies are not exclusively watched by teens and above. A survey of adults in 2019 found that 12% said they were allowed to watch PG-13 movies between the ages of 6 and 9, with 6% saying they watched such films aged even younger.

Although some skeptics say violent media do not lead children to become more aggressive, a large survey conducted in 2015 found that most pediatricians and media scholars agree that there is a link.

Except that this supposed consensus ignores the fact that over the period in question, we saw a decrease in violent crime up until the very strange 2020 hit.

If this uptick in violent content was so damaging, why didn’t we see a significant uptick in violent crime over that same period? Correlation isn’t causation, but causation should lead to correlation. We simply don’t see any such correlation, which suggests that this claim is more a case of wishful thinking.

Plus, let’s be honest, that linked study just found that media researchers think there’s an issue. It’s not evidence that such an issue exists.

Then, of course, they claim access to guns is an issue.

Children are naturally curious, and adults often underestimate their ability to find guns hidden in the home. As one firearms expert noted, “Their brains are developing. That same curiosity that can inspire them to pick up a book and want to learn how to read can inspire them to go looking for a parent’s gun.”

Of course, the “firearms expert” is Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, an anti-gun effort funded in part by Michael Bloomberg.

So pardon me if I’m a bit skeptical of the claim.

Now, that said, I am an advocate for locking one’s guns up. Especially if you have kids. Kids explore and yes, kids are curious. However, this is really just trying to put the onus for this shooting on gun owners in general, rather than acknowledge that one parent managed to completely screw the pooch.

One thing they failed to say anything about was efforts to demystify guns.

Kids are often intrigued by firearms not because they’re available, but because they’re forbidden. We tend to be fascinated with things we can’t have or shouldn’t do. If you demystify them by educating them and giving them supervised access to guns, they’re less likely to see them that way. Then, if they come across a firearm, they’re not likely to see it as something enticing.

Funny how that never makes it into the discussion.