Reigning in gun violence has become a focal point in the news coverage over the past year.
The issue remains divisive; there are those who want stricter restrictions on guns or certain types of weapons, those who see such restrictions as an encroachment of the second amendment, and a slew of viewpoints that lie somewhere in between.
Following such a monumental tragedy, like the shootings in Connecticut or 9/11, the focus seems to be on questions such as, how could this have been prevented? Who can be held responsible? What can we do to make sure this never happens again?
Of course, these are questions and concerns that have to be answer ed, yet another question seems to get overlooked: why did this happen?
When mental health becomes part of the picture, rational thought ironically seems to go out the window. Often you’ll hear, “Well it happened because some guy went batshit crazy and killed a bunch of kids.”
Well, that doesn’t answer a lot of questions, and violent crime in America isn’t exactly an anomaly. So what are the causes for this kind of behavior, is it nature, nurture or both?
As a small but active member of the “media,” the question of whether or not increasingly violent media contributes to these kinds of things is, to an extent, a personal conundrum.
There’s no doubt that contemporary media is addled with violence. The effects, however, have been the subject of scientific inquiry for decades.
The issue took center stage again in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik took the lives of over 70 people, mostly 17- and 18-year-olds, in a series of terrorist attacks in Norway.
Breivik openly testified that he trained for the attack with the help of “Call of Duty.” “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” was the highest-selling video game in 2012, is it really that surprising that a handful of kids might get (extremely) carried away?
While violent behavior can be caused by a number of factors, such as family psychopathology, abuse and exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse, research seems to show that violence in the media can contribute to aggressive behavior.
A study by J.G. Johnson in 2002 was the first longitudinal study to link television exposure (which remains the predominant medium of media consumption in households) during adolescence to “subsequent aggression.”
As mentioned before, a number of variables can contribute to violent behavior, but this particular study used a large sample size of over 700 families and a time span of 17 years to test thoroughly and statistically controlled key childhood factors known to affect aggression.
Studies like this, and the report published by the American Psychological Association the year before, have changed the question from “whether” there is a connection to violence in the media and aggressive behavior, to “how” exactly it affects people.
Regardless, it’s impossible to do a case-by-case study, especially when violent crimes like a shooting spree at a school often ends with suicide.
We may never know what propelled Adam Lanza into shooting his own mother and the 26 people at Sandy Hook.
But we do know that the rampant violence that is so easily accessible on TV and the Internet contributes to a more aggressive youth.
Take the incredibly popular AMC TV show “The Walking Dead.”
While I personally think it’s a great show and hugely entertaining, it’s sort of troubling that an eight-year-old could turn on the television at 9 p.m. on a Sunday and see “dead” people getting dismembered.
Censoring violent content in the media is tricky, because it still remains censorship.
People who are 18 and older should by all means have the right to consume whatever sort of media or programming they choose.
Violence is a part of expression and in some ways video games or watching an action movie can be cathartic, but there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.