It's Not about the Video Games

The pattern has become familiar: There's a mass shooting, and while some liberals try to raise the issue of the fact that our society is drowning in guns, more "realistic" commentators quickly turn the discussion away to some of different questions. Did the mental health system fail? And what about those violent video games? Aren't they a big part of the problem? That's what people are asking now about Aaron Alexis.

The answer is simple: No, video games aren't part of the problem of gun violence in America. Or more specifically, even if they're part of the problem, they're such an infinitesimally small part of the problem that blaming them for the endless gun slaughter in America is like blaming one of the leaves on the tree that fell on your house for all the damage to the roof.

This shouldn't be difficult to wrap your head around. Think about it this way. Could an early intervention by mental health workers and authorities have helped Aaron Alexis before he turned murderous? Perhaps. But you know where else there are people with mental illness? In every country on earth. Could the fact that Alexis played violent video games have helped him plan out his attack? Perhaps. But you know who else plays violent video games? Tens of millions of American teens and adults. And you know where else they play violent video games? In almost every country on earth. Yet we're the ones with not only the regular mass shootings, but the 10,000 or so gun murders every year. People are suffering mental illnesses and playing Call of Duty and watching Bruce Willis movies all over the world. That's not the problem.

Yes, there is some academic research suggesting that violent media can increase aggression in some narrowly defined circumstances (I discussed it at length here). But while nobody can say precisely what contribution media make to real-world violence as opposed to all the other factors that contribute to it, what we can say is that any contribution media make is so tiny that it's virtually meaningless. So please, if we're going to ask "Why did this happen?", let's keep the answer grounded in reality. What makes America different isn't that we're the only country with violent media or that we're the only country with mentally ill people, because we aren't. And I refuse to believe that Americans are just naturally more violent than people in other societies. What makes us different is one thing: all the guns.

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