What the nation must talk about after Sandy Hook
by: Alex Thomas
On December 14, 2012, Americans became shocked after hearing about the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooting, committed by Adam Lanza, took a total of twenty-seven lives, including twenty children and Lanza’s own mother. While most Americans were wondering how such a horrendous act could be committed, some pundits and commentators jumped on the wagon for more gun control. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, less than four hours of the attack, said that “gun violence has been epidemic in this country going back decades”. CNN’s Piers Morgan argued for tighter gun laws, and has called guests on his show wrong for being against gun control, including calling one gun advocate an “unbelievably stupid man”.
On December 21st, one week after the shooting, the National Rifle Association held a press conference, which included comments on how gun-free schools are not enough of a safe guard to protect our nation’s children, and the best plan to develop “a model national schools shield emergency response program for every single school in America that wants it”. “From armed security to building design and access control,” said Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, “to information technology, to student and teacher training, this multifaceted program will be developed by the very best experts in the field.” Also mentioned in the press conference were the effects of the rise of violent video games and movies that, according to LaPierre, “portray life as a joke and…portray murder as a way of life.” Massachusetts has even pulled violent video games from state-owned rest stops because they “desensitize players to the realities of mass destruction”.
After a month of calls for more gun control and a deeper look at video games, President Barack Obama addressed the nation, calling for a new ban of “military-style assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The President also signed twenty-three executive orders into law, including a clarification in the Affordable Care Act that would not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes, while also asking the Center for Disease Control to research to see if violent video games have any effect on young people becoming violent. Even though people want massacres to stop happening, regulating guns and violent video games is not the proper way to handle the situation.
On the issue of guns, the constant cry from progressives is that we should ban and regulate assault weapons, and more specific, assault rifles. But what exactly an assault weapon is remains unclear. Many argue that because these guns fire multiple rounds at a time, up to a thousand rounds a minute, they are a clear threat to America’s safety. However, many guns on the market today, including most handguns, are semi-automatic, meaning they eject the used shell and enter a fresh one to be shot automatically. What really defines an assault weapon is how it appears, meaning if certain cosmetic features were added to appear like machine guns, which were banned in 1986, they would fit under this title. This includes certain grips and stocks that only affect the cosmetic appearance of the gun, not the amount of bullets shot. That depends on the amount of times a trigger is pulled. In fact, assault weapons should be the least of people’s worries when it comes to gun violence. When it comes to the amount of deaths cause by guns, almost six thousand lives were taken in 20111 due to murders by handguns, according to the FBI. Compared to almost three hundred fifty with the use of rifles and over three hundred seventy with the use of shotguns, the goals of keeping Americans safe will not be satisfied under the President’s plan. Finally, the effort of forcing doctors to ask their patients about owning a firearm may be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects consumers by providing limits on how much information one can tell their doctors while setting limits on who can observe it. While it may be an effort to protect certain people from buying firearms, it forces people to give up privacy in their own personal lives to stop a person from buying a gun that is not even the main problem concerning gun violence.
Video games got a lot of heat after the shooting as well. In the NRA press conference, Executive Vice President LaPierre mentioned how video games are part of “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people”, mentioning games such as Grand Theft Auto and Bullet Storm as examples. LaPierre has some proof in this, as according to a 2001 study in “Psychological Science”, children who play violent video games experience an increase in blood pressure and adrenaline, while also experiencing an increase in aggressive actions. Video games allow the players to enter a world of fantasy, where it’s okay to steal a car, shoot people for money, and stab clueless enemies for achievements. But the keyword in all of that is “fantasy”. A clear majority of players know that there is a fine line between fantasy and the real world. Video games give players a chance to relieve stress and do things that they otherwise would not do in real life. Games of this type allow people to use guns, but it doesn’t necessarily teach them how to properly treat, load, and fire a gun. Between the years 1960 and 1991, when crime peaked in the United States, there was a three hundred forty-five percent increase in crime in the United States. Since 1991, there has been a decrease of thirty-one percent in crime, even with some of the most violent video games in the art’s brief history being put out, such as Mortal Kombat, Doom, the previously mentioned Grand Theft Auto series, and the Call of Duty franchise. While games of the sort may bring temporary changes to player, it is not enough to identify video games as harmful to anyone’s mental health.
After the massacre at Sandy Hook, the real focus shouldn’t be on guns or video games, but rather the individual himself, Adam Lanza. Early reports suggest that Lanza suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and a personality disorder. Lanza’s parents had gone through a divorce in 2009, and Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, worried about how the school district was planning to treat her son. Ms. Lanza also took her sons to the local shooting range, as she was an avid gun collector. Adam used his mother’s own gun in the massacre, not one that he bought on his own. While many calls for gun control and attacks against violent video games have been heard, the cries for studying mental health have been almost silent. One of the President’s executive orders will release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover, but it is only a small part of the President’s overall plan, which focuses mainly on maintaining safety by increasing regulation on guns.
While the arguments against guns and violent video games are based in wanting to create a safer tomorrow, both are wrong in the effects they have on violence in the United States. Handguns kill seventeen times as many people as assault weapons do, and the effects of video games are only temporary. As crime is going down in the United States, we must remember that common sense is the only proper solution to stopping massacres, not bans and finger pointing. We cannot let our emotions guide our political platform, but rather let facts be the basis of it.