Sunday December 30, 2012

In a defensive diatribe following the gun massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association, while finding itself blameless, cast aspersions far and wide, including upon violent video games. Many Americans are concerned about the graphic violence in these games and in movies, but it is important not to allow this concern to provide the NRA with political cover. Especially given that the NRA’s lofty distaste for the video games it criticizes is only for show.

The New York Times reported last week that some in the gun industry, defended by and lobbied for by the NRA, work with the manufacturers of extremely popular and graphically violent video games like "Medal of Honor Wartime" and "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2." The McMillan Group, which makes guns and ammunition, and Magpul Industries, which manufactures gun magazines, partnered with Electronic Arts, the newspaper reported, in designing "Medal of Honor Wartime." Those two gun companies also donate funds to the NRA and offered promotions on the NRA’s Facebook page -- until they were recently removed.

Hypocrisy is nothing new to the NRA, but if the association is truly offended by violent video games it will sever its ties to gun manufacturers who assist in their production. In that way, the NRA would be following the lead of teacher pension funds and other investors seeking to end their connections to gun manufacturers whose stock cratered right after Newtown.

The belief that violent video games and graphically bloody movies desensitize young people to violence is commonly held though difficult to measure. If it is true in the case of movies, than young people in Europe and Asia should be even more violence-prone than are American youth. "The Dark Knight Rises," a typically mayhem-strewn Batman film, has made $450 million domestically this year and another $633 million in foreign markets. For another example, "Expendables 2," a summer release featuring aging action heroes, has made $85 million domestically and $215 million overseas.

Foreign audiences may be just as desensitized to violence as American audiences -- but if they are, they cannot act on their impulses so simply. It is too easy for a disaffected youth or disturbed misfit in America to get a handgun or semiautomatic rifle and shoot up a movie theater or school, while a similar youth or misfit in England or Germany will find it difficult or impossible to act upon his rage with a weapon. This is a key reason why gun massacres are largely an American institution.

People unhappy with violent films can express that unhappiness with their wallets and hit Hollywood where it hurts by staying home. Parents can ban video games from their households. Fake guns in games and on screens, however, don’t kill people. Real guns do, and that is the issue America faces in 2013.