The Republican disinformation game is in full swing since the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona (days ago). Arizona State Senator Linda Gray says that guns have nothing to do with the shooting (I’m sure she means “gun culture” as opposed to how ungodly easy it is to get guns and monstrous big magazines in her home state) and blamed (liberal) society instead:
The culprits are violent video games, violence on TV and…she couldn’t leave this out – abortion. Yes, allowing abortions makes kids violent. Makes them want to kill State Representatives, no doubt, when they’re all grown up. According to Gray, Raw Story relates,
“Our children are bombarded with TV programing showing a multitude of killings. Children are given games to play in which they earn points for killing people. Where are the TV programs that promote good role models? … Children are becoming more desensitized and complacent toward their own violent acts and those of others.”
Let’s look at her claims one by one:
PBS has looked at eight of the myths surrounding video game violence and has already therefore debunked Gray’s assertions:
- The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
- Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
- Children are the primary market for video games.
- Almost no girls play computer games.
- Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
- Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
- Video game play is socially isolating.
- Video game play is desensitizing.
There is no “epidemic of youth violence” as it turns out. PBS relates that “According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low.” Also, as it turns out, “Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population.”
It’s true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers — 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure.
We will see the issue of home life again when we look at Gray’s claim that TV violence leads to violent behavior.
PBS concludes that,
The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.
As far as any link between violent play and youthful aggression, PBS explains that
Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, “media effects.” This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played.
“Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment.” PBS concludes that “If there is a consensus emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one risk factor – when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences — which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.”
And people don’t usually beat people to death with video games or video game consoles. They kill them with weapons, like knives…and guns.
While it is certainly possible to find studies that argue television violence leads to violent behavior, Media Awareness Network, a Canadian non-profit organization, points out that the matter is still very much open to debate:
- “Some experts, like University of Michigan professor L. Rowell Huesmann, argue that fifty years of evidence show “that exposure to media violence causes children to behave more aggressively and affects them as adults years later.”
- “Others, like Jonathan Freedman of the University of Toronto, maintain that “the scientific evidence simply does not show that watching violence either produces violence in people, or desensitizes them to it.”
A study published in 1975 examined the relationship between television violence and violent behavior and Hartnagel, Teevan and McIntyre found,
The relationship between exposure to television violence and violent behavior was examined with questionnaire data obtained from adolescents. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive correlation between these two variables. Only minimal support for this hypothesis was found.
As a predictor of violent behavior, they found “Television violence was found to be insignificant in comparison to such other variables as sex and grades in school in predicting violent behavior.”[i]
In another study, done in 1996, Richard Felson’s study of the evidence emphasizes three points:
- Exposure to violence in laboratory and field experiments is as likely to affect nonaggressive antisocial behavior as it does aggressive behavior;
- The message that is learned from the media about when it is legitimate to use violence is not much different from the message learned from other sources, with the exception that illegitimate violence is more likely to be punished in media presentations;
- The fact that violent criminals tend to be versatile – they commit nonviolent crimes as well – is inconsistent with explanations that emphasize proviolence socialization (from the media or other sources).[ii]
His conclusion is that “exposure to television violence probably does have a small effect on violent behavior for some viewers because the media directs viewer’s attention to novel forms of violent behavior that they would not otherwise consider.
Hardly a damning appraisal of television violence.
I would like to point out here while we’re on the subject of media violence that the Bible is full of truly grotesque forms of violence and sexual pornography, including violent sexual pornography. I wonder if Ms. Gray would like to blame the Bible too while she’s pointing fingers? So extreme is the violence in the Bible you would find it neither on TV or in your local theater.
This is an interesting claim, that legalized abortion creates violence. Actually, there is evidence that the reverse is true, that legalized abortion has lowered the crime rate. What is more remarkable still, and perhaps Gray chose not to mention this fact for a reason, Jared Loughner said that abortion was “terrorism.”
Let’s take a look at some facts rather than dwell on Gray’s fantasy.
In a study published in 2001, John J. Donohue and Steven D. Levitt argued that,
“Crime began to fall roughly eighteen years after abortion legalization. The five states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade” and they argue that Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.”[iii]
Reviewing the matter again in 2004, Donohue and Levitt write that “In Donohue and Levitt (2001), we advanced the hypothesis that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s is causally related to the decline in crime experienced in the United States in the 1990s.” Re-examining the issue in 2004 they found that “legalized abortion is once again strongly associated with reductions in crime.”
Their conclusion is that “Indeed, the results we present in this reply represent some of the strongest evidence to date in favor of the hypothesis that abortion legal-ization has dampened crime.”[iv]
Again, of course, abortion does cause violence in a way Gray would probably prefer not to have mentioned: clinic bombings and murder by anti-abortionists, so-called “pro-life” advocates who prove to be “pro-death” instead.
Violence directed at abortion clinics and doctors is a serious issue. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) reported 30 bombings between 29 May 1982 and 1 January 1985, observed David Nice in a 1988 study.[v]
Another study dated late 1996 shows that there had been up to that date “over $13 million in damage caused by violent anti-abortion groups since 1982 in over 150 arson attacks, bombings, and shootings.”
You can review clinic violence statistics at the National Abortion Federation here
[i] Timothy F. Hartnagel, James J. Teevan, Jr. and Jennie J. McIntyre, “Television Violence and Violent Behavior” Social Forces Vol. 54, No. 2 (Dec., 1975), pp. 341-351
[ii] Richard B. Felson, “Mass Media Effects on Violent Behavior” Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 22, (1996), pp. 103-128
[iii] Donohue,John, and Steven Levitt. 2001. “Legalized Abortion and Crime.”Quarterly Journal of Economics 116(2):379-420.
[iv] John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt, “Further Evidence That Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce” The Journal of Human Resources Vol. 39, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 29-49
[v] American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 178-195