This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.
Last week, Governor Chris Christie’s self-appointed gun task force came back with recommendations on how New Jersey could fine-tune its gun control laws, already some of the strictest in the country, in order to prevent an incident like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary from ever happening here.
Predictably, the task force completely punted on the controversial issues being discussed on the national stage, like universal background checks, limiting high-capacity magazines and banning Internet gun sales (New Jersey is one of the few states that already ban ownership of assault weapons). After all, this is an election year, and with Christie’s national star rising, you didn’t expect any meaningful reforms that would further buck Republicans, did you?
Instead, the report centers more on issues like mental health and substance abuse, meaningful areas that do require more attention and public outreach. But the core of the task report’s findings seems to focus on the controversial issue of violent video games that parents seem to have no problem buying for their kids. This is convenient for Christie, who has spoken out about violent video games in the past. Turning video games into a scapegoat while avoiding more meaningful reforms, like universal background checks, is a way for the Governor to act like he’s promoting gun safety in a liberal state while avoiding an unnecessary battle with the party faithful he hopes to win over in 2016.
Personally, I see this issue from two vantage points. As a fan of video games, I’ve noticed a trend nationally to completely dismiss the idea that violent video games can contribute negatively to mental health and potentially lead the wrong kids down the road to Sandy Hook. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that national measures to tackle the issue of gun violence have completely excluded violent video games from legislation.
Like anything, money talks in Washington, and the video game industry’s chief lobbying arm, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), spent $18 in lobbying alone over the last four years. It also probably doesn’t hurt that ESA’s top lobbyist, Erik Huey, has close ties to the Obama administration and has visited the White House at least 20 times since 2009. l Video games are also more popular with younger voters, who also tend to be more liberal and vote for Democrats. While most 20-somethings don’t own a gun, nearly every single one has either a Playstation or XBox hooked up to their TV.
Obviously, I don’t think violent video games are the sole reason kids are shooting up schools, but studies seem to indicate they’re at least part of the problem. A recent study of 227 juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania shows that both the frequency of play and affinity for violent games were strongly associated with delinquent behavior.
This is hardly new territory – several scientific studies show similar findings, and make it clear certain types of video games shouldn’t be played by kids. But video games do have a ratings system just like movies, and with just 9 percent of all games released in 2012 being mature, what can the government do to prevent parents from buying violent games for their kids?
Apparently, lawmakers can do exactly what they argue against when it comes to buying actual guns – apply stricter penalties and tougher regulations on video game purchases. Last month, Republicans in the House introduced a bill that would enact stiffer penalties for stores selling Mature or Adults Only rated video games to minors.
And in states like Missouri, Republicans are willing to raises taxes on video games intended for adults, the same way we tax alcohol and cigarettes now. I guess small-government conservatives don’t see the irony in arguing in favor of personal responsibility when it comes to gun purchases, yet want as much red tape and regulation as possible when it comes to video games.
Take the issue of universal background checks, something over 90 percent of people can agree is necessary and makes sense. The Republican argument seems to rest on not burdening poor gun owners with tough regulations and lots of paperwork, but when it comes to video games, they’re willing to make it as hard as possible for someone to buy one.
If I have to show my ID when I purchase Grand Theft Auto 5, shouldn’t I have to at least show some identification when buying a real weapon?
I’m not a blind defender of violent video games. I play them, but I think we can all agree that a little bit of regulation and red-tape is appropriate if it prevents 10-year-olds from getting their hands on a game where you steal cars and kill people indiscriminately. But so can real weapons, and a culture of gun worship and almost masturbatory reverence to the 2nd amendment hasn’t made things much safer.
After all, violent video games exist in other parts of the world that don’t have the types of gun violence we do. They also don’t have the culture of gun worship we can’t seem to let go of. I wonder if there’s a connection…
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.