- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2013

President Obama’s plans to curb gun violence focus heavily on firearm restrictions and on mental health, but video games and movies — two cultural issues that many Americans blame for violence — got little attention Wednesday.

Mr. Obama said he would ask Congress to pump $10 million into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a study on the relationship between video games and violence, but didn’t ask for any additional controls.

“Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds,” the president said. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”

Mr. Obama didn’t mention movies or television programs at all in his remarks.

It’s a shift from last month, when Mr. Obama assigned Vice President Joseph R. Biden to head a task force to “look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence,” in addition to mental health and access to guns and ammunition.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were disappointed by the administration’s lack of focus on a culture that they said should shoulder part of the blame.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said Mr. Obama missed the chance to talk about “the potential impact violent video games and movies have on our kids.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said the president should have established a national commission to look at all aspects of “our culture of mass violence.”

“A national commission can build the consensus we need for real action backed not only by gun control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s task force did talk with video game and movie executives, but they merited scant mention in the seven-page executive summary the White House released Wednesday. Indeed, movies were relegated to the final paragraph, which said that part of the equation is up to parents.

“The entertainment and video game industries have a responsibility to give parents tools and choices about the movies and programs their children watch and the games their children play,” the White House said.

Ahead of Mr. Obama’s speech, the entertainment industry warned the White House against going further.

Motion Picture Association of America chief Chris Dodd, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut who served in the Senate alongside Mr. Obama, told the Hollywood Reporter last week that he would “vehemently” oppose any government mandates to limit violence in movies.

After Mr. Obama’s speech, several film industry groups released a statement welcoming “further academic examination.”

The Entertainment Software Association on Wednesday praised Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden for a “thoughtful, comprehensive process.”

“The same entertainment is enjoyed across all cultures and nations, but tragic levels of gun violence remain unique to our country. Scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world,” the association said.

The National Rifle Association put the focus on entertainment after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting rampage last month when Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said a degraded culture was a bigger problem than access to firearms.

“In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year,” Mr. LaPierre said in a widely anticipated speech. “A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18.”

The NRA didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The top gun lobby came under fire for an ad accusing Mr. Obama of being an “elite hypocrite” because his daughters are protected full time by Secret Service agents carrying guns — a benefit most Americans don’t have.

The NRA has called for adding armed guards to every school as a solution to shooting sprees like the one at Sandy Hook.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the NRA ad cowardly.

“Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight,” he said. “But to go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”

Outside of Capitol Hill, some states are already acting.

New York lawmakers enacted stiff gun laws this week, and a Republican legislator in Missouri proposed a tax on violent video games.

Plenty of research has been conducted on the effects of violent movies and video games, and there are few firm conclusions.

In fact, one group of researchers argues that blockbuster movies can decrease violence — at least in the very short term. The researchers said people with a tendency toward violence end up going to the movies, which keeps them off the streets and away from opportunities for violence.

They calculated that violent movies can deter 1,000 assaults on an average weekend.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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