Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin blamed the Parkland shooting on the culture created by violent video games, songs and other media during a Feb. 15 interview with conservative radio personality Leland Conway from 840 WHAS-AM, a local radio station.
While he also addressed the overprescription of pharmaceutical drugs and changes in America’s moral compass, Bevin mostly talked with Conway about video games “training our society to kill.”
“There are games that literally replicate and give people the ability to score points for doing the same thing these kids are doing at schools,” Bevin said. “It’s the same as pornography. It has desensitized people to the value of human life.”
Studies have found that exposure to violent media can result in more aggressive behaviors, said communications professor Cynthia King, Ph.D., whose graduate dissertation focused on the topic.
“One that’s used often times when we look at media violence is Bandura’s social learning theory, which talks about modeling, what we see rewarded and punished,” King said. “That has implications if you think theoretically about video games or films and things that glamorize violence.”
A 2013 report commissioned by the American Psychological Association, found that exposure to violence in media is “important” to consider when looking at developmental risks related to gun violence.
The report found that violence in movies, television, music, video games and online mediums are associated with increased aggressive behavior and decreased prosocial behaviors.
However, it notes the link between the two does not demonstrate a “direct causal effect.”
“There are many, many larger issues to just look at it and say ‘Media is horrible because of mass shootings.’ It’s more of a symptom of the problem than the actual disease,” King said.
She said she agrees with Gov. Bevin that cultural issues in the United States lead to more aggressive societal norms. King added that this extends to not just mass media, but gun culture as well, since both serve as a means of modeling and normalizing otherwise abnormal behavior.
“The fact that our media includes a lot of violence and we have a lot of guns shows where our cultural values are,” King said. “As long as our society embraces these things, we’re going to have a bunch of these issues.”
The 2013 report also indicates that exposure to violent media amplifies preexisting tendencies that can come from external sources, including family, school, community and cultural influences.
King said it would not be right to completely restrict people’s Second Amendment rights to firearms or First Amendment right to media. However, she thinks there is “critical” common ground in terms of limiting access to both guns and violent media for younger audiences.
As the mother of a 20-year-old daughter and two sons younger than 10 years old, she said she understands that younger children are especially impressionable and exposed to levels of graphic violence they are not developmentally ready to understand.
“I have always thought that one of the answers to all of these things is just (media) literacy,” King said. “The same thing goes for gun use. If we model good, respectful behavior in how we feel about guns and what we think about them, that’s going to be more impactful than what the media is saying.”
Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is currently being held without bail and faces 17 charges of first degree premeditated murder with an AR-15 rifle at the Parkland mass shooting, according to a Broward County Sheriff’s Office police report.
The Parkland shooting is now among the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern American history, according to a list compiled by CNN. The shooting left 14 students and three faculty dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
One response to the shooting came from President Donald Trump, who offered his “prayers and condolences” to the victim’s families over Twitter.
My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2018
The president has come under fire for his choice of words by those who feel using phrases alone are not enough and should be backed by action, such as pushing for congressional gun control laws.
Among those pushing for legislation are Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and families, who spoke to Florida congressmen, the Broward County Sheriff and a representative of the National Rifle Association at a CNN town hall Wednesday.
While King said it is ultimately great to bring awareness to these kinds of issues, she feels there needs to be a cultural shift before issues like guns can truly be legislated.
“If you don’t think having a lot of guns is good, then don’t support the people who are buying them. If you think films showing guns are too aggressive, don’t patronize those films,” King said. “We are a capitalist society and what gets attention is putting your money where your mouth is.”