In the wake of last week’s fatal shooting spree in Washington, D.C., the debate surrounding the alleged link between violence in video games and violence in reality has resurfaced on both sides of the Atlantic, and with greater likelihood of affecting policy than ever. The shooter, Aaron Alexis, is believed to have been ‘addicted’ to violent video games in the years leading up to his attack, playing for up to 16 hours a day. Spurred on by an onslaught of anti video game articles in a number of prominent British newspapers, American lawmakers are reportedly preparing for an official hearing on the subject; an unprecedented escalation of the issue.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, a House Republican leadership aide described the situation in worrying terms.
“Between stories on the news and on Drudge, and what they are hearing from their constituents, there are an increasing number of members who want to examine the link between the violence in video games and violence in real life,” the aide explained.
As our readers in the U.K. will be quick to note, violent video games are not even superficially correlated with increased gun crime. Countries like this one, Japan, or South Korea are permeated with a violent video game culture comparable to that of the United States, but do not experience the same kind of violence at all. While it looks plausible on paper to say that virtual violence desensitises gamers to real violence, social scientific research has yet to turn up any evident causal link between the two. Researchers have for years also struggled to establish a relationship between the right to bear arms and increased gun violence, though they too have come up relatively empty-handed.
However, this has not stopped the issue from cropping up every time the Naval Yard shooting is mentioned. At NBC News, Michael Isikoff has even gone so far as to call the shooter’s love of video games the most interesting aspect of the story so far.
“The other thing, which is perhaps the most interesting that we’ve heard so far, is that he was a devotee of violent video games, and I think one of his friends described him as obsessive on that, and playing with them constantly,” said Isikoff on All In with Chris Hayes.
It seems that no matter what the shooting is blamed on, libertarians have cause for alarm. The left wing, led by President Obama, seems intent on blaming the tragedy on the Second Amendment, yet the right wing is preparing to blame it on the First. What neither side seems to be aware of in this case are the facts:
- The shooter was mentally ill and heard voices, yet was given security clearance at the Naval Yard.
- The shooter used weapons available even in the United Kingdom.
- The shooter chose to attack a U.S. military base, disarmed by President Clinton in 1993.
What is perhaps most tragic about the events of last week is how easy it would have been to prevent them. The government should not give security clearances to the mentally unstable. Banning assault weapons will not stop crimes committed with shotguns. Disarming military bases makes them easy targets. When looking for ways to prevent crimes like this from occurring again, policymakers should stop making excuses and take account of the obvious.