Is Video Game And Hollywood Violence Making Americans More Violent?

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The other scapegoat for the awful murders in Connecticut, other than guns and gun ownership, seems to be violence in American entertainment.

“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence,” none other than Hollywood star Jamie Foxx said in an interview on Saturday. “It does.”

Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper also told CNN that “video games” may be to blame for shootings such as the one in Connecticut and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting earlier this year.

Here’s the problem: If violent movies, television shows and video games are making us more violent, then why aren’t we actually more violent? Both the governor and Mr. Foxx sound pretty certain of their conclusions, yet the data doesn’t support them.

For one, according to the FBI’s crime index, violent crimes in America are down and have been trending that way for decades even as violence in movies, and especially in video games and on television, rises:

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And, since mass shootings seem to be the context in which we discuss these questions of violence in entertainment (not to mention increasing gun control), it’s worth noting that instances of mass killings, specifically, have been in decline as well:

[T]hose who study mass shootings say they are not becoming more common.

“There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.

The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.

Society moves on, he says, because of our ability to distance ourselves from the horror of the day, and because people believe that these tragedies are “1 of the unfortunate prices we pay for our freedoms.”

Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.

Given these trends, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between violent crimes (and mass shootings as a subset of violent crimes) and rises in entertainment violence and gun sales. If those calling for gun control, and less violence in entertainment, were right we should be seeing the opposite of these trends. Mass shootings, and violent crime in general, should be going up.

They aren’t. Which means that there is either some other cause-and-effect at play here, or perhaps these sort of things are just random.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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