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Films, video games get short shrift in gun-violence review

Industries eschew any responsibility

- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2013

President Obama promised an all-of-the-above examination of gun violence in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut last month, but the video game and movie industries say they're not part of the problem.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who will unveil his recommendations for combating gun violence this week, met with representatives of those stakeholder groups after similar meetings with sportsmen, gun rights groups and gun safety organizations.

But while groups like the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence have actively lobbied for specific action, such as expanding background checks for all gun buyers, the movie industry says it's already doing what it can in the wake of the shooting rampage last month in which 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"This industry has a long-standing commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families," a group of six organizations, including the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. "We welcome the opportunity to share that history and look forward to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Mercurio, vice president and general counsel for the Entertainment Consumers Association, pointed in a letter to Mr. Biden this month to research from people such as professor Christopher J. Ferguson of Texas A&M University that shows no link between violent video games and real world violence such as mass shootings.

"With the recent tragedy on everyone's minds, some people are looking for a cause and culprit other than the shooter," Ms. Mercurio wrote. "Unfortunately, some are blaming media, including video games, for violent behavior in individuals. We know this isn't the case; banning or regulating media content even more won't solve the issue."

Mr. Biden, who Mr. Obama tapped to head the task force, made sure to tell the group of video game executives that they were not being "singled out for help" on the issue.

"We know there's no single answer," Mr. Biden said. "And quite frankly, we don't even know whether some of the things people think impact on this actually impact on it or not."

But Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, has directly targeted the video game and entertainment industries as part of the problem.

"There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," he said last month. "Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?"

Indeed, in the wake of the shootings in Connecticut, many lawmakers have called for an examination of a "culture of violence" in the country.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said Sunday that simply watching first-person shooting games such as "Call of Duty" for research left her aghast.

"As a mother and a grandmother, I was astounded with some of the things that I was seeing," she said on CNN's "State of the Union."

In July, 12 people were killed and 70 injured in a shooting spree at an opening-night of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo. A federal judge on Friday delayed the arraignment of the suspect, 25-year-old James Holmes.

Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, said that the entertainment industry cannot simply sweep things under the rug.

"If we want to have this grand, national dialogue about why our culture is as violent as it is, there's no escaping the fact that there's some media impact," he said. "Unfortunately, all we ever hear out of Hollywood and their lobbyists is that everything that can possibly be done is being done. And that's simply absurd."

But John Lott, an authority who has written extensively on the connections between gun laws and crime, said there are simply too many variables involved to definitively tie mass shootings to violent movies or video games.

"It'd be one thing if you could say, 'these states are allowed to sell the video games, and these states don't'" over particular periods of time, he said. "I just am very skeptical -- that unless you have some type of laboratory experiment, it's going to be tough to disentangle those different things that are going on."

Mr. Biden himself conceded that he doesn't have a magic formula, either.

"There's no measure that I'm aware of to be able to determine whether or not there's a coarsening of our culture in a way that is not healthy," he said. "I don't know the answer to that question."

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