Mass Shootings vs Entertainment: What’s to blame?
Note, my heart goes out to those who were hurt by Adam Lanza’s violent act at Sandy Hook. This article in no way intends to diminish anyone’s loss that day.
After Adam Lanza killed 27 people at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, congressional leaders are now aiming their sites on video game violence as a cause. This knee jerk reaction came about because Adam Lanza was a ‘gamer’. What child of his generation hasn’t played at least one video game at some time? I would have been more surprised to learn he had never played video games. Video games are ubiquitous at this point. They are as ubiquitous as TV, the telephone and the Internet. In fact, video games are on telephones. Video games are not in any way a small industry that only a small segment of children play. No.
In fact, most big video game titles like Skyrim, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft today gross far in excess of the proceeds that even the biggest films gross over their cinematic run. Most children today play video games in some way or another every day, whether it be on their iPhone, personal computers, a console (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, etc), Facebook or on a handheld like the PS Vita, PSP or Nintendo 3DX. Video games are everywhere.
Violent Games versus the Real World
Video game violence has been in games since the early days of video games on computers, like playing Ultima on the Apple II to Nintendo’s Zelda series to Plants vs Zombies to today’s most sophisticated pc and console games like Call Of Duty. Video game violence is what it is and it’s here to stay. But, there is nothing at all that feels real about playing a video game or in participating in video game violence. Yes, video games can become an immersive experience at times, but it is so far removed from reality that anyone who is sane and rational can tell the difference between a game and reality. Note, I did say that anyone who is ‘sane’ can tell the difference.
With Adam Lanza (as with many of the other shooters), there are questions regarding mental state, which brings up a whole separate topic that is unrelated to video games. We’ll explore that in just a bit. However, I have been playing games since the Atari 2600 days. I’ve sold video games and video game units and I’ve owned practically every video game system ever made. Suffice it to say that violence in video games has never once prompted me to pick up a gun in the real world nor carry or point said gun at anyone (nor any other kind of weapon for that matter). Not one video game has conditioned, persuaded, caused or in any other way influenced me to do anything violent. Okay, I have to confess that I have thrown my game controller across the room because the game did something stupid and frustrating.. like crash and lose my game making me start over. And, throwing the controller across the room was not prompted by the content in the game, but because the game itself was badly designed and caused me to start parts of the game over wasting a lot of my time. I’d also never throw the controller at someone. Breaking the controller in half, that’s one thing. Hurting someone using a gun, that’s something totally different. Personally, I don’t even own a gun and that’s also my own choice.
Let’s discuss some causative factors involving Adam Lanza’s actions. Note, I cannot speak from personal experience as I did not know the Lanza family personally. However, based on what I’ve read in the media, here are the issues as I see it.
- Adam Lanza may have had Asperger Syndrome or some other form of Autism. This is a form of mental distress. That is, without a certain level of proper management of the condition, an autistic child can either withdraw and/or act out. This is the first problem in a series of problems that led to Adam’s actions.
- Adam was legally an adult at the time.
- Adam’s mother was apparently an active gun owner. She had purchased guns from a local gun shop several years prior to Adam’s actions. One thing, however, I am not certain of is how actively she managed keeping those guns safe. Apparently, however, she didn’t keep them locked up safe enough as Adam was certainly able to gain access to them, load them and carry them to Sandy Hook.
- Nancy Lanza apparently thought that teaching her mentally ill son how to shoot guns was a smart idea.
- Adam’s mother had been having some mental distress of her own, perhaps in just simply managing her son’s condition.
The question remains, were video games involved? Was any type of entertainment media involved? Unlikely. So, what did prompt this? Let’s explore Aspergers just a little.
Here is an explanation according to Wikipedia:
Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Basically, these repetitive patterns keep the mental distress of the person to a minimum, the patterns give the person structure and order and allows the person to function in a mostly normal way. If new things are introduced, the Asperger’s sufferer can act out, withdraw or produce violent acts. Let me say that again, without proper management of Asperger’s, the person can act out violently.
I could see, however, an Asperger’s sufferer turning to video games to relieve the condition. That is, most games are extremely repetitive. The more repetitive, the better for this type of person. So, I could easily see how any repetitive video game could provide comfort and stability for someone with Asperger’s.
Access to Guns and Mental Distress Disorder
If any one thing played role in Adam’s actions, it was easy access to Nancy’s guns. Any mental distress can easily place a person into a state that is surreal or unreal. That is, they can’t easily tell the difference between reality and delusion. Once the line between reality and delusion has been crossed, the person may not have any conscience left to understand any actions that may be acted out. With Asperger’s, something must have changed in Adam’s life that upset his everyday repetitive balance and he acted out. Apparently, first on his mother, Nancy Lanza three days before Sandy Hook. Then, killing her on the day of Sandy Hook and then killing 26 people at Sandy Hook.
Nancy, unfortunately, provided him with access to the necessary weapons to make his own fantasy become a reality. So, off Adam went toting Nancy’s guns to Sandy Hook to commit his violence.
Were Video Games involved?
Let me start by saying that I’ve never played a video game where someone stocks up with guns from their mother’s gun stash, visits a school and opens fire. So, I would have to say that getting this idea from a video game is definitely not possible. Where Adam got the idea is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he watch a documentary on the Columbine massacre? Who knows? But, it’s clear that the main problem did not stem from a video game plot.
Gun ownership and mental distress?
Instead of wasting time pointing the finger towards entertainment media as a ’cause’, we should point the finger towards where it belongs, at the gun safe located in a house with a person of mental distress. Guns and gun ownership comes with a price (and not just a monetary one). It comes with the price that you are responsible with what happens with the guns that you buy and store. If you buy guns and store them in a house with someone that has a history of mental issues, then you are responsible for what happens after. Of course, in Nancy’s case, she’s now dead along with the 26 other people from Sandy Hook.
Gun laws and gun background checks should include checking the background of anyone living in the home (or in proximity) with the person who wishes to buy, own and use the gun. Anyone who is close enough to have access to the gun needs to also be background checked. If any one of those persons has a history of mental illness, the gun purchase should be denied. It’s quite clear that gun access in combination with mental distress is the most likely reason these children rampage schools with guns. If they hadn’t had the access to the guns, they wouldn’t have rampaged the school with said guns as they wouldn’t have been able to buy the guns as children.
It’s fairly clear that gun ownership laws need to change. These laws need to prevent gun ownership by anyone who is the legal parent or guardian over anyone with a history of any mental condition or illness. I also believe that gun ownership should be denied to parents who have children that are not yet legally adults (and especially of children during teen years). It should also be illegal to store guns in a home of children between the ages of 8 and 17 at minimum, but preferably children of any age. Of course, if someone has guns already or they were handed down because of a will or other ‘gift’, then these are situations where guns can become present in the face of someone with mental distress. For anyone purchasing a gun that will live in proximity to anyone of any age, the laws should require mandatory gun safety training for anyone who intends to touch, use or gain access to the weapon. In fact, gun safety and storage training should be required to even get a permit to own a gun. It should also be illegal to teach anyone with mental illness to hold, use, access, touch or otherwise handle a gun (or any other weapon).
Clearly, though, there is no real answer to completely prevent this problem. Allowing any gun ownership can lead to another Sandy Hook. Gun laws can only do so much without outright banning guns, but that cannot be done in the US because of the US Constitution’s second amendment which guarantees the right to ‘keep and bear arms’. So, without repealing the second amendment, there is no real answer to the issue of these mass violence events. Even if violent video games and other entertainment were banned tomorrow, the violence would not stop as gun ownership and mental conditions would simply continue to be influenced by other means (news, TV shows, movies and the like) and people would still act out.
Could Sandy Hook have been prevented? Maybe. Maybe not. If Nancy had recognized the signs early enough (as in 3 days earlier when Adam acted out on her), she might have had him arrested or otherwise detained. However, since Adam was an adult at the time, that issue brings up an even more serious question about mental illness. However, the US does so little to actively manage people with mental illness, especially when they reach adult age, I’m not sure this could have been completely prevented. It’s clear, though, that guns and mental illness do not mix, especially those with Asperger’s, but any person with paranoid delusions could act out violently. We need better means to determine just who is in a state that could lead to such violent acts. Unfortunately, doctors just want to medicate and send people on their way. That doesn’t fix the problem, it just delays it. We need better from the medical community than, “take 2 pills 3 times a day”.